I’ve had to endure watching several painful versions of Hercules before this movie finally came out and I, for one, and pretty glad it delivered on the hype because I could not take sitting through another Kellan Lutz version-level of this great mythological character.
In director Brett Ratner’s (Prison Break) version of Hercules, the titular character (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is not actually a son of Zeus but an extraordinarily strong man, who performs incredible labors for a fee, along with his comrades in arms — his childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso), the seer Ampiaraus (Ian McShane), his most loyal warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). His heroism however, is mostly based on Iolaus’s exaggeration of his marvels in battle, and the people’s belief that he is a demigod. When Lord Cotys (John Hurt) promises him and his group their weight in gold to stop the war in Thrace instigated by a warlord named Rhesus (Tobias Santleman), he decides to trains Cotys’s soldiers to give them a fighting chance against the enemy.
I’m a mythology buff and Hercules is one of the most iconic mythological characters out there. Admittedly, playing loose with the lore would not bode well for the movie (Clash of the Titans reboot), and making deviations that do not make sense (like The Legend of Hercules) would result in epic failure. Surprisingly, Hercules: The Thracian Wars did both of these things to such extreme that it worked pretty well.
I liked the creative freedom that director Brett Ratner took with Hercules’s story. Most of the elements were still there, the 12 labors (with a twist), the death of Hercules’s family, the extraordinary strength — all of which were part and parcel of Hercules’s character as a hero. But with the depiction of Hercules as a mere mortal and not as a demigod, and with a look behind the scenes of the mythical monsters that he fought, the Hydra, centaurs, and Cerberus, the three headed hound of hell, Hercules underwent a major transformation and started to become a character independent from his mythological counterpart, meaning his movie counterpart had a whole new playing field all to himself with liberty to do things that the original character would not even think of doing. This is a powerful thing, really for a film to have — the popularity and hype of the original character and possibilities created by a new version, all rolled into one.
I liked the casting very much and Dwayne Johnson has proven himself time and again in leading ensemble casts. He has a coolness about him that transcends the setting of his adventures and this makes him appeal as a hero more effectively. As Hercules, he did not overact, but instead just took everything in stride with an ease borne of a great character actor. He owned the role and after seeing the movie, audiences will not remember anyone else who played the character.
The supporting cast was absolutely awesome. Each had their own personalities that gelled well with each other. I especially liked the character of the battle weary and mentally unstable Tydeus, and Hercules’s confidante and adviser Ampiaraus who kept waiting for his moment to die. It was my first time to see Ingrid Bolso anywhere but I could not get past the thought that she looked exactly like a young Nicole Kidman.
The script was also very smartly written. It delivered on the laughs and the cheesy, yet inspiring pep talks marvelously. I think one of the film’s strengths is its ability to integrate the cheesiness of the material with the serious parts.
Hercules is the type of action adventure that one would expect from The Rock. It was fun and entertaining and it was pretty wholesome considering the subject content involves war and betrayal. While it could be described as loosely based on the original material at best, it remained true to the essence of Hercules as a character and the core of his story is basically the same (albeit less tragic) — discovery, redemption, and finding peace with a little help from your friends. The movie per se was aimed not at getting critical acclaim based on its approach but rather on delivering something different, yet marketable for the movie viewing public and for that, it was quite a success.