Hercules, the summer action vehicle for pro wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, is an easy movie to dismiss. Aside from being released during a quiet period in the summer movie season, the marketing for the film is misleading. The trailers lead you to believe the film is akin to Clash of the Titans (an egregious example is a scene where a man lashes a flaming whip around Hercules’ neck. Spoiler alert: the whip is absolutely not on fire in the film), when in fact it’s closer to Gladiator.
Hercules wisely drops this facade very early in the film. Hercules and his faithful companions use his considerable fighting abilities, coupled with their collective skills, to maintain the perception of Hercules’ legend and use it their advantage to instill fear in their enemies. And of course, there’s the inevitable payday. The setup for Hercules‘ merry band of adventurers does not shy away from the tropes of the genre, checking off a list of requisite roles (the archer, the wild barbarian type, the rogue, the sage / magician type), typical threat (a kingdom in danger oh no!), and of course, the Hurting Hero in Hercules.
But despite the almost by-design mediocrity of the entire setup, I found myself enjoying Hercules quite a bit. Where the movie succeeds is in its almost self-conscious nods to its cliches and their subversion, as well as some solid action sequences and a decent plot twist 3/4 of the way through. Most of the acting is nothing spectacular, but Johnson does a good job of playing the conflicted hero and Ian McShane is fun as Amphiaraus, the wise-cracking sage who is ready to die in battle.
And anything with John Hurt is instantly elevated a few levels. I mean, it’s John Hurt.
What will sink this movie is the shady marketing and incorrect perceptions movie goers will have when they arrive at the theater. If you are expecting a mythological epic, then you will be disappointed (and fairly early in the film, to boot). Switch gears and go in expecting a more grounded action film and you should be entertained. Hercules is flawed but fun. Worth a matinee viewing.