No CGI animals were harmed in the making
Celebrated graphic novelist Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen) recently sounded off to discourage viewers from seeing the new summer blockbuster Hercules because he claims Paramount Pictures capitalized on the death of Steve Moore, author of the Radical Comics’ “Hercules” series, to promote the movie. Alan Moore alleges Paramount completely omitted his lifelong friend from the making of Hercules until after the author’s death in March when mention of the film surfaced in a few obituaries. Alan further stated that Steve never received compensation for the film from Paramount because Radical Studios’ contract with the author allegedly failed to stipulate compensation and consultation. His quote to bleedingcool.com on Hercules came out loud and clear, “…I would also ask that anybody out there who gives a damn about Steve Moore or his legacy not go to see this wretched film. It is the last thing that Steve would’ve wanted. And I cannot un-recommend it too highly or anybody involved in it…” While Moore’s words certainly carry a healthy helping of sting and barb to them, Hercules simply isn’t worth the excitement—good or bad, as it boils down to a predictable, formulaic blockbuster. It’s safe to say that Steve Moore’s graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars is the superior narrative and one always hopes that a lackluster film won’t discourage audiences from reading a film’s source material, if there is any. Perhaps if the author’s original, intended vision had come to celluloid, the film adaptation wouldn’t have flopped at the box office.
Controversy and allegations aside, director Brett Ratner’s (Tower Heist, the Rush Hour trilogy) film adaptation of the graphic novel about the Greek hero unravels as quickly and predictably as all other Hollywood blockbusters taking on an ancient subject. Perhaps if Ratner took the same approach towards this film as Robert Zemeckis took with his historical fiction film, Beowulf, the style could have at least been commended as edgy or risky. Hercules requires so much CGI that motion-capture could’ve been an alternative, creative, cheaper route. (Perhaps that would have drawn unwelcome comparisons to the 1997 Disney animated feature of the same title?) Instead, the finished product comes off as a PG-13 version of 300. Nevertheless, all three acts are short, but still have a bit too much speaking for an action movie. At 98 minutes, the film already flies by, but still could have done without the redundant scenes where we’re constantly reminded that Hercules isn’t a god and that his crew is a gang of mercenaries. Perhaps Ratner’s biggest problem happened when he made the montage/ jump cuts of Hercules’ famous Twelve Labors more interesting and engaging than the plot itself.
Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain, Fast & Furious 6) plays the titular hero, Hercules. Unlike any preceding film adaptation, Johnson’s Hercules is nothing more than a man. Enormous and surely stronger than the rest, but still just a mortal man. The actor’s performance fails to carry any triumphant weight or resilient inspiration as Johnson instead relies on his trademark good guy-charm to get through each scene. He doesn’t completely fail in the role as his physicality alone proves he’s worthy. Watching Hercules painfully rip himself free of shackles, fight a lion, wrestle a boar, or topple a monument certainly looks more natural with Dwayne Johnson than it would with say, Kellan Lutz. It’s difficult to imagine any other actors owning a role based on physicality alone after Arnold Schwarzenegger in the eighties and Dwayne Johnson currently. In fact, the ancient setting is reminiscent of Johnson’s film The Scorpion King, made when he still was billed as “The Rock,” however Johnson’s acting and ability to choose a script have remarkably improved since. One could argue that Hercules is Johnson’s second chance at historical blockbuster epic. Although it doesn’t surpass its source material, Hercules certainly entertains better than The Scorpion King. Everything we love about the hero comes out of the action, and on that level, Hercules passes with flying colors.
Most importantly, Hercules never forgets that it’s an action/adventure popcorn flick. It has an A-list star (Johnson), a studio director (Ratner), a European supporting cast, PG-13 rating, millions of dollars to throw at special effects, and a graphic novel basis. The action scenes completely immerse the filmgoer with sweeping, wide shots that look particularly dazzling with a pointed weapon and debris in 3D. On paper, the film shouldn’t lose, but in reality, Lucy topped it at the box office ($44 million against $29 million) with an R-rating, mid-budget, A-lister (Scarlett Johansson), and a renowned director (Luc Besson). While Lucy certainly is the superior action movie in most regards, it’s still surprising to see Hercules lose by $15 million. Hercules also had the 3D advantage which has become less and less of a factor as the summer draws to its final month. Perhaps two films featuring entertainment and escapism shouldn’t elect to compete for the box office in the same weekend. People can’t afford the money or time to catch a double-feature these days, especially with pulp material.
The supporting cast doesn’t get much time to shine as does the lead, but manage to do more with their characters. Reece Ritchie (The Lovely Bones) plays Hercules’ nephew and the most relatable character as he constantly strives to be a brave warrior like his uncle despite his role of gathering crowds to tell the fictitious tale of Hercules’ Twelve Labors. Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” Hot Rod) stands out as another one of Hercules’ mercenaries—a prophetic warrior with no fear of battle because he’s already foreseen his death. Rufus Sewell (Dark City, The Illusionist) plays Hercules’ best and most loyal friend, Autolycus, who comes off every bit as misanthropic as Hercules is charming. John Hurt (Hellboy, Immortals) and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, “American Horror Story: Asylum”) play one-dimensional villains in ancient Greek clothing.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hercules is its deviation from the general legend of the demigod son of Zeus. Ratner’s Hercules has an outfit of mercenaries traveling around Greece ever since Hercules was banished from Athens for killing his family. Hercules’ mortality constantly becomes a topic of conversation as he is a mere mortal in this film, with the myths surrounding him used only to intimidate enemies and spread the name to the next potential client with sacks of gold. Ratner even touches on social commentary as the myths of Hercules become a metaphor for how the common people believe anything told to them by the powers (kings, government, etc.) that be. Despite sticking to Hollywood formula, Hercules finds itself with a coherent plot that doesn’t give everything away at once.
The second 2014 film with the legendary hero Hercules as its subject proved to entertain audiences better than the first but not as much as its wide release-competitor, Lucy. Director Brett Ratner’s Hercules is a generic Hollywood blockbuster with a tremendous amount of CGI (not unlike the other Hercules movie this year) that offers exciting fight and battle sequences made more vivid with 3D. Dwayne Johnson carries the film as the titular hero with his trademark charm and imposing physique, receiving a boost from his supporting cast of Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, and John Hurt. Hercules outperformed The Legend of Hercules, but would it have bettered Lucy without the negative press from Alan Moore?