For all the partially deserved fanboy flack that Brett Ratner gets for his middling X-Men entry, 2006’s The Last Stand, the truth is that the guy knows how to create fairly passable entertainment. I would apply this to everything from Red Dragon to After the Sunset to Tower Heist. His latest is Hercules. This is not a re-teaming with Eddie Murphy focusing on Sherman Klump’s nephew, but a significantly loose reimagining of the Greek god tale with its tongue often firmly planted in the strong cheekbones of its star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. If taking on this well worn story sounds like a big undertaking and effort for Mr. Ratner (if only there were a term to better describe that), he doesn’t embarrass himself even if the final product is just mildly satisfying.
Johnson is a natural choice to play the son of Zeus (or is he?) and we find this version of Hercules as a for hire mercenary with a band of merry misfits. They include his young nephew who hates that his legendary uncle won’t let him fight. We have a knife thrower and a dude who doesn’t speak, but we know he will eventually at an “important moment”. And we also know the nephew will get his chance to show his bravery. The most interesting of the Herculean back up group is played by Ian McShane who can apparently see his the details of his own demise. The pic has a little fun with this detail. Rounding out the team is basically Xena, Warrior Princess.
We soon arrive at our hero and team’s latest mission which is to save a village led by a Lord played by John Hurt and his daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) with her young boy who shall be king one day. That is if Hercules and company can save them. Family issues are also front and center with Hercules himself and we learn details of his tragic history relating to why he was banished from Athens.
Our nemesis is someone who may or may not be a centaur and we have a couple of laughs from that detail as well. We get a series of battle sequences and inspirational speeches as the beleaguered village must learn war tricks from the title character. Training montage included. It’s all familiar territory with the one welcome difference being that the screenplay doesn’t take itself seriously like most efforts in the genre.
The vibe gets a bit more toned down in the third act and by that time, these proceedings begin to wear out their welcome. It’s actually the early battle sequences that are most impressive before becoming a little repetitive (some occasional dodgy creature CG doesn’t help). Like Ratner flicks before it, passable is an apt word for description with Hercules.
**1/2 (out of four)