Dwayne Johnson's 'Hercules' a bloody good time

Dwayne Johnson stars as Hercules.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Hercules.

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:37 PM ET

Idiocy and excess is rarely this much fun - but Brett Ratner’s Hercules is just the kind of macho madness that this comic book version of the myth requires when Dwayne Johnson is the chosen one.

Bulked to the max, grinning sheepishly like he has been hit in the head with a battle axe and ready to toss off his dialogue like beads of sweat dripping from his mega-muscles, The Rock is a comic book hero. And definitely not the Greco-Roman demi-god of myth and legend, who was known as Hercules by the Romans and Heracles by the Greeks.

In fact, that is precisely the point here. The filmmakers and the cast members know that this is a big, bold and bloody romp.

So we get two narrators - Ian McShane as the sardonic seer and Reece Ritchie as the glib-tongued storyteller - who both careen from one silly extreme to another, either overhyping the story of Hercules’ triumphs and superhuman powers or making fun of the notion that he is the bastard son of Zeus and therefore divine in some way. Ratner plays this Hercules for tongue-in-cheek laughs.

The movie is set in ancient times, 2400 years ago, in among the city states of Greece but primarily in Thrace (which, in modern times, is mostly in Bulgaria). Hercules - the idiotic movie, not the classical myth - is based on two limited series of graphic novels published by Radical Comics. They are the work of British writer Steve Moore, who died in March without seeing his opus adapted to the screen. We do wonder what he would have thought.

Moore’s version of the character is riding the fame of his 12 Labours by hiring himself out as the leader of a ragtag group of mercenaries. He has a knack for trusting the wrong kings as his employers and ends up in complex webs of violent betrayal and moral compromise after killing countless foes.

Because Johnson is such a terrible actor, none of the serious stuff is actually taken seriously. It is just plot filler for the holes between the uber-violent battle scenes, and also the flashbacks to his Labours. These are cool, whether he is facing the nine-head Lernaean Hydra or slaying the fearsome Nemean lion. Or did he? The movie makes it seem possible that these exploits are just exaggerated stories.

Johnson obviously knows what kind of movie he is in - meaning that this Hercules is a satirical version of those sword-and-sandal epics from the 1960s. But with better special effects in the digital age, especially in the IMAX 3D version (assuming the 3D technology does not break down for 20 minutes, as it did at the preview screening).

Most of the rest of the ensemble members get it, too, with McShane, Ritchie, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie and Ingrid Bolso Berdal all goofing off as Hercules’ comrades. Ditto for John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes as ego-driven kings, Peter Mullan as a cock-of-the-walk general and Tobias Santelmann as a centaurish warlord. Only Rebecca Ferguson, as the princess protecting her young son, plays this out as if we are supposed to be immersed in a Greek tragedy.

No matter, Ferguson gets to play Johnson as the fool, which serves the plot as screenwriters Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos lurch from calamity to comedy. Hercules, the movie and the character, is a guilty pleasure.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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