Hercules *** (out of five)
If you go see the new version of Hercules, take your laundry. It’s the perfect movie to have on in the background while you fold it. The gag of this one – based on a comic book series – is that this Hercules is not actually the son of Zeus but just a very strong dude. He leads a rag tag group of mercenaries – you know, an archer, a seer, a hothead, a battle-scarred axe-wielder – and comes to the aid of John Hurt (for gold). Very well shot and edited battle scenes follow.
The other gag of this one is that they’ve surrounded Dwayne The Rock Johnson with brilliant (mostly British) actors, and watching them enjoy themselves on this silly, expensive production is much of the fun. Ian McShane – who seems drunk for most of his scenes – has a great time, as does Rufus Sewell, Hurt, Joseph Fiennes and Peter Mullan (think of the Pinter play you could stage!) The biggest letdown is that we don’t get to see enough of Johnson’s natural charm and charisma. The screenplay has a lot of verbal and visual jokes (which don’t work) but doesn’t give very many of them to Johnson, who is actually very adept at pulling that kind of thing off. As such Hercules’ posse is more interesting than Hercules.
The whole thing is gore free, almost entirely bloodless and obviously aimed at the widest possible audience, which it possibly will get in the late summer in the United States, and certainly in those “foreign” markets that savour spectacle over dialogue. It’s not bathed in a sepia wash, it has nothing to say about the condition of mankind now, then, or otherwise, and it doesn’t even pretend to be educational. This is a B picture that aspires to nothing else, and it’s quite a good one. Brett Ratner directs with no particular flair, but he sets an easygoing, comfy tone, and maintains it. I look forward to the inevitable franchise.