Catching up: Hercules 2014 review

Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that I was planning to blog about the then-current genre television season, the various books and comics I’ve been reading, the convention scene, and upcoming movies and tabletop RPGs.

Granted, I’ve been busy with work, weekly games, and seasonal festivals, but before they all blur together in memory, let me review some recent films.

On Friday, 25 July 2014, I met Jason E.R. and his son Eric for dinner at Fuddrucker’s and an IMAX 3-D showing of Hercules. We enjoyed this sword-and-sandals movie, which starred Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.

Hercules 2014
Mighty heroes

Plot: Since I had read the Radical Comics miniseries this movie was based on, I wasn’t surprised that the 12 labors of Herakles weren’t as prominent as in the trailers. In fact, the plot takes the tack that the labors were exaggerated tales of a non-magical band of adventurers.

In this respect, I’d compare 2014’s Hercules with the 2004 King Arthur, but with more of a sense of humor. Johnson already proved a worthy successor to Conan: the Barbarian‘s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hercules: the Legendary Adventures/Kull the Conqueror‘s Kevin Sorbo in Scorpion King.

The Rock’s shaky computer-animated avatar in The Mummy Returns was one of the few weak spots in that pulp adventure flick. I’d also compare Hercules favorably with the over-the-top 300: Rise of an Empire (but if you like Frank Miller, just wait for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For). I’d even argue that Hercules was more faithful in spirit, if not in specifics, to its source material than Jason Momoa’s Conan or the dour Man of Steel.

Cast: Even if Hercules script is occasionally weak or predictable, Johnson is ably supported by Ian McShane as fatalist mystic Amphiaraus, Rufus Sewell as mercenary Autolycus, and John Hurt as aged Lord Cotys. Joseph Fiennes follows in his brother’s footsteps (Ralph was Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise) as the scheming King Eurystheus.

The younger actors are also decent, including Askel Hennie as traumatized Viking Tydeus (it’s fantasy, don’t sweat it), Reece Ritchie as Hercules’ kinsman and storyteller Iolaus, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as the Amazonian Atalanta. The White Queen‘s Rebecca Ferguson is Princess Ergenia, and model Irina Shayk is Hercules’ wife Megara. Some viewers will recognize character names from Greek mythology, TV’s Legendary Adventures, or even the Disney animated musical, but this is a different take on most of them.

Direction/cinematography: It’s too bad that years of computer-assisted effects have left us jaded to visions of monsters, large armies maneuvering on battlefields, and feats of strength and acrobatics. The action scenes in Hercules were generally well choreographed, and the movie was well paced.

I liked the glimpses of mythical beasts, the use of phalanx and archers on chariots, and even the cheesier moments of Hercules in chains. The Steve Reeves and Ray Harryhausen classics have nothing to worry about, but it’s still nice to see a deconstruction that doesn’t completely tear down fun, larger-than-life spectacle.

Rating: Jason, Eric, Byron V.O., and I all liked Hercules more than fellow role-player Rich C.G. I’d give Hercules a 7.5 out of 10, a solid “B,” or four out of five stars. This is the sort of movie I’d classify as a “gamer flick,” with an entertaining ensemble of misfits doing heroic deeds but not necessarily aspiring to subgenre greatness.

I’ve heard that this movie was better than the other Hercules film of earlier this year. Although Luc Besson and Scarlett Johannson’s Lucy (more on that later) beat Hercules at the box office, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel featuring Johnson and that first superhero team, Jason and the Argonauts. Now, who to cast?

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