TMN Movie Review: "Hercules"

Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Rating: PG-13
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: July 25, 2014
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Genre: Action / Adventure

The beginning of 2014 brought "The Legend of Hercules," a dramatic rendition of the hero's tale that did not fare well at the box office. Brett Ratner's "Hercules," on the other hand, delivers all the action, adventure and epic battles that audiences expect from the ancient hero. After completing his 12 Labors, a disillusioned Hercules must find faith again so he can train an army to defeat a formidable foe. Starring Dwayne Johnson in the titular role, this summer blockbuster is easily one of the year's best action films.

In the year 1400 BCE, the Greek hero Hercules, the bastard son of Zeus and a mortal woman, is a troubled soul who is coasting along on no more than his reputation. He has already undergone his legendary 12 Labors. Many of these included slaying and capturing mythical beasts such as the Hydra and the Nemean Lion, whose head he now wears into battle. He has also suffered the loss of his family, who were murdered by his doing. Without the love of his life, Ergenia, and his young children, Hercules feels bitter and lost, and King Eurystheus has exiled him from Athens.

The exiled Hercules now lives as a sword-for-hire, using his brutal fighting skills to maintain his reputation. He has also come together with six other lost souls who share his interests, and together they have become a formidable team. The men and women go into each fight without even questioning how much they are to be paid for their services or who their opponents are, wishing only to fight and kill.

When the King of Thrace and his daughter come to these mercenaries seeking their help, they agree to train his army and teach them to fight with skill and ferocity. Their enemy is a tyrannical warlord whose bloodthirsty soldiers paint themselves green before battle. Hercules and his allies have their work cut out for them, but the hero begins to realize that all hope may not be lost as his long-lost faith resurfaces. When he discovers that he is near the enemy that murdered his family, Hercules is overtaken with vengeance as he prepares to fight the biggest battle of his life.

Unlike many Hercules films of past decades, Brett Ratner's "Hercules" does not focus on the hero's origin story, instead showing audiences his life after exile. Near the beginning of the film, viewers are greeted by glimpses of Hercules slaying the Hydra, facing the Nemean Lion and completing the rest of his 12 Labors through vivid flashbacks. They also see a peaceful, joyful Hercules with his family before their murder. However, the majority of the story focuses on the demigod's wandering lifestyle as a mercenary. Although the film takes some creative license on the classic tale, it sticks fairly close to the mythology in terms of the 12 Labors, the killing of Hercules' family and even his lion head-dress.

"Hercules" uses a graphic novel of the same name as its primary source material, using the Thracian war plot line as a catalyst for Hercules' character development. Unlike the proud, shining Hercules audiences know from so many other renditions, this character is a stern, world-weary soul who can no longer find meaning in his life, constantly struggling with his harsh past. The character development in this film is astounding, especially on the part of Hercules. Dwayne Johnson embodies the character well, displaying his diverse acting talents throughout Hercules' difficult journey. Johnson is certainly not new to the action genre, but he also demonstrates his ability to portray deeper characters in films such as "Pain & Gain."

In visual terms, "Hercules" is nothing short of stunning, using the perfect combination of CGI and period set pieces to create a breathtaking and realistic portrayal of the ancient world. The well-choreographed battle sequences are sure to keep action fans entertained, and the deeper dramatic element of the film is woven in nicely. Unlike January's "The Legend of Hercules," this film does not have much of a romantic element, instead focusing on the character himself and the difficulties he experiences after losing his love interest. This allows the story to delve much deeper into who Hercules is and what his place is in the mortal world.

Overall, "Hercules" is a fun, fast-paced film with a great balance of action and complexity. Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast bring their characters to life in a beautiful way, and Ratner's storytelling keeps viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. After viewing the film, most audiences agree that "Hercules" lives up to the hype.