Review – It’s All Greek to Me… (“Hercules”)

In what should be called Brett Ratner’s Hercules, this film was adapted from the graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars . Now, we all know Ratner (the Rush Hour movies, X-Men, Superman Returns) likes to have fun with his movies, so it is with this not-quite-serious, action-adventure picture about the legendary Greek half-man/half-god. Or is he?


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Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) is Hercules in all his majestic ripped and buffed splendor who, we are told in narrative by Hercules’ nephew and storyteller, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), is the son of Zeus and was subject to the “12 Labors” (i.e. killing humongous beasts and fantastic creatures). But are these fanciful stories to build up his reputation or are they partly fact? Who really knows?

Hercules travels the land with his gang of mercenaries in their quest for money and adventure.You have the prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), wise-cracking thief and blade expert Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), crazed mute warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and archer superb Atlanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal). One day, Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace offers Hercules and his gang sacks of gold if they’ll rid his kingdom of the bloodthirsty warlord, Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann), who is rumored to be a leader of a centaur army! Hercules is also swayed by the Lord’s pretty freckled-faced daughter, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) and her adorably cute 6-year-old son, Arius (Isaac Andrews). Can you say, “bonding moment”?

Herc agrees and helps train the Thracian farmers to become soldiers and lead them into battle, only to be ambushed and nearly slaughtered. Re-grouping, flim-flamming the soldiers with Hercules “magic swords”, and having more training montages proves to work, as the second battle easily wins the day against Rheseus’ army, who it turns out, are just men on horseback.

But uneasy lies the victory with Herc as he learns he’s been duped! Turns out that Lord Cotys is an evil tyrant in cahoots with Hercules’ old King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes), who holds a terrible secret! Hercules is captured and imprisoned in an attempt to put things right, but does that mean he’s down for the count and all is lost? Are you kidding me? The ending is a climatic tour-de-force battle of good vs evil on the palace steps and it’s a doozie!

This is definitely a Brett Ratner film through and through. Fast paced (98 minutes), energetic, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and maximized for pleasure. Screenplay by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, which is far and away better than the box office disaster, The Legend of Hercules, which came out back in January (does anybody even remember that movie? Didn’t think so.) Okay, fine, so this plot is very formulaic from start to finish and has a deus ex machina that you can see telegraphed a mile away, but it is entertaining and actually fun to watch. The Rock really gets into his role here, striking just the right tone without hamming it up or taking it too far over the top. And wow! Are those muscles of his even real??

What’s different about this version of the age-old story of Hercules is that we, the audience, are never really sure if his Hercules is the son of Zeus or not. I mean, he LOOKS strong, IS incredibly strong, and fights like 10 men combined, but we are never told for sure if he truly IS the son of Zeus or just some really, really strong guy with biceps the size of Volkswagen’s. There’s no Mount Olympus interaction, no lightning bolt from above, no talking statues, nothing that would suggest a mythical connection between this Hercules and the realm of the supernatural. Hmmmm. Maybe we’ll find out in part two… if there is one.

HERCULES (1997)


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Smack dab in the middle of the unimaginable successful run of Disney animated feature films back in the 90’s, came this gem written by Ron Clements, John Musker, and Barry Johnson and directed by Clements and Musker. It had a different feel to it from the last film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996, as well as an altogether different look.

The story starts out with a quick backstory about Zeus (voiced by Rip Torn) imprisoning the gigantic and evil Titans, and then having a son named Hercules. While the other gods are joyful, Zeus’ jealous brother, Hades (James Woods–perfectly cast here) plots to overthrow Zeus and rule Mount Olympus, but ONLY if Hercules is eliminated! He turns to his two wacky demon minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) to dispose of Hercules, but they botch the job, and turn Hercules into a half-mortal that is found and adopted by human farmers.

Years later, the ostracized teenage Hercules (because of his incredible strength) visits the temple of Zeus for answers and talks with “dad”, who tells him the truth; he can regain his godhood only by becoming a “true hero”. Herc is then given the flying horse, Pegasus as a pet and trained by Philoctetes (or “Phil” for short and voiced by Danny DeVito), a short-tempted and short satyr.

But Hades isn’t about to give up. He throws monster after monster at Hercules to kill him, but nothing phases him. Hercules (Tate Donovan) grows up, as does his strength and popularity. “Look, I’m an action figure!”. Finally, Hades finally sees a chink in his armor. He likes GIRLS! One particular girl named Megara (Susan Egan) who, unbeknownst to innocent Herc, is actually playing him straight into Hades evil clutches. But, wouldn’tcha know it? She falls for the big lug just as Hercules finds out the truth about her in your classic misunderstanding scenarios. But love wins out as the two fall head-over-heels with other.

Meanwhile, Hades has released the Titans from their imprisonment and they’re wreaking major havoc on Mt. Olympus. Hades double-crosses Meg and has her soul in captivity, but Hercules makes the ultimate sacrifice: my life for hers! Hades doesn’t see the downside to this deal and…

This movie has it all, singing Grecian urns, great Disney animation, a terrific script, outstanding voice-over work, and one or two catchy tunes (not the best in the Disney canon).

Here’s some trivia: Danny DeVito turned down the role of Phil the satyr originally. They auditioned Ed Asner, Ernest Borgnine, and Red Buttons, but it was after Red’s audition he said, “You’re gonna give this part to Danny Devito!”. DeVito then signed.

Another problem they had was casting the voice of Hades. DeVito suggested Jack Nicholson. They sought out Jack and offered him the standard $500,000 for the role, but Nicholson demanded $10 to $15 million, plus a 50% cut of all the Hades merchandise! Yikes! They said, “Uh, no thanks, Jack”. Then they hired John Lithgow, but after nine months, they weren’t happy with the direction of his character, so they tried James Woods who said, “I wanna make him an egotistical slick car salesman”. And it worked!

For all you “hidden Disney” buffs out there, look for Scar from The Lion King  being draped around Hercules like a coat as he’s being painted in one scene.

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