“You think you know the story of Hercules?”, says Ian McShane via clunky voiceover, leading us to believe that this will be a new take on the demigod. However anyone who’s seen the classic ‘90s TV show, Disney’s animated feature or is even vaguely aware of Greek mythology will already know the story quite well. But unlike other incarnations this one sees a woman’s unsupported bosom nearly fall out of her dress and a man almost impaled in his genitals, so perhaps this is a new take.
After his backstory is explained in three minutes (story < violence), Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is approached the unfortunately-named Ergenia (Rebecca ‘not the X-Factor one’ Ferguson) to help her father defeat a warlord. He only agrees to do so after she promises to pay him and his bunch of misfits his weight in gold, so immediately Hercules isn’t the noblest of heroes. But underneath his stonking physique lies some issues as he’s routinely tortured by visions and nightmares about his past, and even he is confused by the legendary tales that precede him.
But every member of his team has their own story too, but instead of making them three-dimensional characters they’re summed up in short statements when introduced to people. At one point Aksel Hennie’s Tydeus frightens the young heir to the throne in a scene that only exists so Hercules can tell us he was tortured as a child, because apparently him tasting the blood of a corpse doesn’t make it abundantly clear that this man has issues. The only one who has any kind of development is Herc’s incredibly annoying nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who begs to be part of the action then does nothing but scream for his uncle when bald, tattooed crazies with spears come running at him. Get lost Scrappy-Doo, you’re useless.
The one thing you can’t fault with Ratner is that he knows what the people want and along with watching The Rock have a chat with Lovejoy, it’s the battle scenes. Bar the unnecessary 3D each one is perfectly staged and choreographed and is just violent enough to make up for the lack of blood. It’s obvious this whole film is Ratner’s fantasy movie but the action sequences, with its Chariots of Fire touches and leftover masks from Gladiator, is where he runs riot.
It should be mentioned that while the lone female warrior in the film struts around a leather crop top and matching mini skirt when she should be wearing armour, the perv-o-meter really goes off the chart when Johnson is front and centre. Each pan across his body is slow and lingering, and even when he’s covered in dust he still glistens; supermodel Irina Shayk may flash her thong for the boys, but this is pec porn of the highest order.
Dwayne Johnson has already proved he can stretch his natural charisma and screen presence to everything from brainless action (Fast & Furious series) to comedies (The Other Guys) and he makes a perfectly fine Hercules in a perfectly watchable film, and given Ratner’s recent output that’s more than we could've hoped for.
(This review was originally published by Virgin Media movies)