Film review: Hercules

23:51, Jul 23 2014
ROAR: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson channels his inner lion in Hercules.

Having survived the 12 labours and the inexplicable slaughter of his family, all Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) wants to do is to live out the rest of his days in peace.

"Civilisation has become too civilised for us," he tells his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie).

A sword-for-hire since becoming a widower, the former mighty protector of Athens only needs one more payday to achieve his dream. And 358BC Thrace may be just the place to get it in a trice. Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and his people are battling warlord-cum-warlock Rheusus (Tobias Santelmann) who appears to have the power to bewitch. Thrace needs a hero and someone to inspire and turn their farmers into soldiers, but as Hercules is about to discover, not everything is exactly as it seems.

Based on a 2008 graphic novel by former 2000AD and Marvel UK writer Steve Moore, this latest take on the fabled demigod is a surprisingly comedic trawl of action movie tropes from the past two decades. Starting out with a CGI-heavy Clash of the Titans-esque opening, the film veers into 300 territory before settling on a Robin Hood-meets-Braveheart storyline (heck Hurt even looks like Patrick McGoohan’s Longshanks). Don't expect lots of exposition though, the good news for fight fans is you get twice the skirmishes of Mad Mel’s Scottish epic in half the running time.

More Sorbo than Schwarzenegger, a beefed-up Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (The Scorpion King, Pain & Gain) cracks skulls and wise in equal measure as he delivers both inspiring speeches and general carnage with his usual amiable charisma. He's surrounded by an eclectic band of "merry men" clearly hired for their sex appeal and comedic value (there’s Ian McShane’s equivalent of a soothsaying Tuck, Rufus Sewell’s vain Scarlet and a midriff-bearing Marion – an Amazonian archer played by Ingrid Bosol Berdal, who is guaranteed to make more than just her arrows a quiver).

But like Paul W S Anderson’s 2011 take on The Three Musketeers, it all feels just a bit too knockabout (perhaps not surprising given that director Brett Ratner is most famous for the Rush Hour trilogy), interested more in making sure the audience is showered with 3D detritus than keeping an eye on the growing amount of bathos. Visual gags are straight from the Pulp Sport playbook, sexist remarks abound and first-timer Ryan Condal and Disney direct-to-DVD specialist Evan Spiliotopoulos's script contains at least one too many foiled coup de graces and surprise saves.

And with the visual palette set to gloom (not helped by the usual 3D darkening) and the soundtrack set to constant boom, everything feels about as subtle as a sledgehammer as Hercules labours towards a predictable conclusion. File under sporadically fun but fatuously formulaic.

Hercules (M) 98 mins, directed by Brett Ratner