It’s been a while since The Rock has donned sandals and picked up a sword for a historical actionfest, not since his very first solo movie, The Scorpion King. Taking on the role of one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, Hercules, The Rock gives his usual spark to a decent but completely predictable movie.
Picking up after his famous 12 labors, Hercules has assembled a crew of fighters by his side including mute maniac, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), Amazon warrior Atalanta (Ingrid Berdal), greedy Spartan Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), his gregarious nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) and death seeking seer, Amphiaraus (Ian McShane). They are lured to Thrace to help King Cotys (John Hurt) train his troops and defeat a warlord attacking villages in the region. With the exception of Ian McShane, who delivers both in the comic and action departments, everyone else is pretty stock and you can see various plot points coming from miles ahead if you are well versed in these types of action movies. For instance, Iolaus wants to fight and not just be the group storyteller, I wonder if he’ll prove himself by the end of the movie? Hercules himself goes through a pretty typical arc as well where he initially takes the job just for the money but by the end he’s doing what’s right and just, like a true hero (which the movie basically just straight up says at the end). The one thing I did really enjoy and the one thing that sets it apart from other retellings of the Hercules story is that it never really says if this Hercules is a demigod or not. You see some of his labors (in disappointingly brief glimpses in the beginning) but as the movie goes on, it kind of shows the “real” story of what happened, where it was less that Hercules had the powers of a god and more that he had help from his friends and good strategy. Even if he isn’t a super powered warrior, he’s still The Rock though and he gets the chance to lay the smackdown on lots of random soldiers over the course of Hercules, with a giant club as his weapon of choice, which is also a nice change from the usual swordplay of recent sword/sandal action movies. John Hurt gets some good, scenery chewing moments, especially toward the end and Joseph Fiennes shows up as the king of Athens, who Hercules initially works for before a tragic event forces him to leave.
Action wise, Hercules is pretty competent throughout but nothing really stands out as being really spectacular, especially not compared to the similar but much more violent and crazy 300: Rise of An Empire. There’s two big battle sequences, with the first being the standout as Hercules and co. are up against crazed barbarian warriors who the soldiers under his command believe are undead demons. There’s also a montage sequence that feels like it was lifted directly from Mulan (seriously, someone please edit that scene with “I’ll Make a Man Out of You over it). Unlike a lot of recent action movies, Brett Ratner thankfully ditches the shaky cam style of filming that’s been the rage as of late and, because of that, you can see everything clearly and get a good sense of where everyone is on the battlefield. I also appreciated the fact that both of the huge battles take place during the day, instead of the typical dark, rainy night that is usually the setting for historical or fantasy battles.
Overall, Hercules is a solid entry into The Rock’s canon but it doesn’t really do anything to push it beyond the realm of decent. The plot, characters and action are all serviceable but there’s better historical action out there (far worse as well). I don’t think it’s worth rushing out to theaters but if you’re a Rock fan, I’d say it’s worth a rent when it comes to DVD/Blu Ray.