Hercules has the distinction of not being the worst Hercules movie this year. If that sounds like a low bar to clear, well, there’s a reason I chose it.
There’s a moment, early in The Rundown, where an enforcer, confronted with a bunch of promising football players not willing to pay their gambling debts, begs his boss not to make him go back in. Not because he’s scared, mind you, but because he really wants their team to win this year.
And in that moment, what should have been Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s career as an action/comedy superstar unfolds in front of you. It’s brilliantly funny as his mouth writes a check that his fists promptly cash, with interest. But that movie bombed, and instead, he’s stuck salvaging a movie that perversely refuses to play to his strengths.
The central gag of Hercules is that Herc, while strong, fast and tough, is just a mortal with a good hype man and a back-up team of stock characters. And it’s a great premise, the perfect setup for an action-comedy where Herc, seemingly a dumb slab of meat, uses his sharp wits and his clever team of buddies to thoroughly rout the bad guys and convince them he really is the demigod of legend. Which is actually right in line with the myth.
Unfortunately, about half that script is in here, right down to the cherubic brat who claps his hands and believes, and man, do you want to see this kid get impaled. But for some reason, half of a crappy grimdark Hercules movie was also shot, and then the two were kinda smooshed together. And then just to add insult to injury, professional traffic cop Brett Ratner was hired to direct it. The result is a mess, with jokey bits immediately followed by grim vistas of corpses. Just to bust out a few spoilery examples:
- Hercules is an orphan… who, uh, somehow has a nephew as a sidekick/hype man.
- A character who’s barely in the movie shows up at the end for a “what a tweest!” moment that makes no sense whatsoever.
- John Hurt being a tyrant, which is A) obvious from the get-go and B) something he tries to cover up for some reason, despite the fact that he thinks Herc and his crew are just paid soldiers.
- He also has an entire army of Scott Ian impersonators, which he uses in an utterly pointless battle that does nothing to achieve his goals.
- Also nobody, especially not Herc’s love interest, bothers to tell him what’s actually going on, despite dozens of opportunities to do so.
The movie can’t even properly adhere to its gimmick: Herc, despite being mortal, can still punch a dude so hard he goes flying back fifteen feet and shove over giant marble statues with relative ease. Was some logical consistency and a coherent tone really too much to ask?
At least somebody was awake in the casting. Granted, this is Hercules and his buddies Han Solo, Mongo, Token Archer Chick, Spineless Horndog, and Vaguely Buddhist Hippie, but you’ve got Johnson, who has charisma to spare, backed up by guys like Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane, playing off John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes. Really, when this movie works, it’s because the cast makes it.
In the end, Hercules is a missed opportunity. Hidden within the dumb grimdark moments and cheap CGI is a charismatic actor rallying the troops and making what should be a complete stinker at least tolerable enough to watch the once. But everyone in this cast, especially Johnson, deserves a lot better.