I just saw the movie Hercules tonight. I have seen plenty of movies since my last movie review, but it takes a really special movie experience to get me to write about it.
As always, I don't apologize for spoilers. But this time, ironically, I don't think I could spoil anything about this film if I tried. The film uses so many clichés that, in a way, you have already seen it.
So gird up your loins, ready your flanks, and add a little more oil to those biceps, dear reader. This is going to be a bloody one.
Everyone speaks with British accents
The film opens with a breath-taking pan of Ancient Greece. Just in case we couldn't ascertain that from an obvious view of the Acropolis, the Colusseum, and white people feeding each other grapes (or distinguish it from Las Vegas), the specifics of every intended setting flash across the screen in tasteful Papyrus MS font. This was no doubt a personal touch from one of the producers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding that stuck around for the shooting of this movie.
Though we are clearly supposed to be somewhere in ancient Macedonia, everyone talks with that old sounding British accent. Some characters even go as far as forcing the Cockney variation. The vulnerable, admiring child actor that followed Hercules around could have stood in for Tiny Tim.
Why do films do this? Why is a British accent the only way to make people sound like they belong in any date precluding 1900? Lucky for them, my feudal system era history must be as fuzzy as theirs. I had no trouble forgiving the strange accents once I was immersed in the gripping dialog.
The Rock always carries a stick
I could describe to you how 'The Rock' played the part of the son of Zeus, or I could save you time and just describe how 'The Rock' plays anybody. He is always a venerated, but tired war hero. Despite his street cred, he unapologetically recites his plight as just a 'regular guy trying to be with his wife and kids'.
Take the movie 'Walking Tall'. The Rock is clearly known as the 'get business done' guy. He is clearly the most physically imposing character in the town, but everyone knows he is just a regular guy trying to hang out with his family. Bad guys come in (either crooked cops or hilariously dehumanizing entrepenuers… I don't remember), and Dwayne is forced to destroy them all.
Oh yeah, and he always carries a big piece of wood.
Figure 1: I hear 'carry a big stick' was the only thing written down in his high school history notebook.
In the provided context, Hercules may as well be whatever the Walking Tall guy's name was. He is a grizzled, weary mercenary who just wants to live in peace and hang out with his wife and – ah . Forgot. They're dead. But there were so many flashbacks of them, I feel like I knew them as well as he did.
The Rock did OK, comparatively. He had a decent British accent, and he even went through the trouble of growing his hair out like Jesus. With that kind of haircut, it doesn't matter if you hire Tom Cruise, Christian Bale, or The Rock. They are all going to seem the same - until they start talking.
Figure 2: Thanks to the hair, these actors are completely interchangeable for any male protagonist living from 4000 BC to AD 1200
Following Hercules’ dramatic introduction was an unending slew of action movie clichés. There was a rag tag group of misfits, a greedy deserter that redeems himself at a critical time, and plenty of dirty faced peasant extras to stare at the camera as your hero passes in a chariot.
The movie even capitalized on some of the Hunger Games hype. There was a saucy female archer - but lacking in Catniss, this one went to battle in a poshe animal hide mini skirt. There is this totally original scene where a clueless, sexist King snidely remarks that the battle is no place for a lady - then BAM. Midriff Mc'Quiver extemporaneously fires arrows in the courtroom. How do they come up with this stuff?
There was also plenty of hat tipping to my absolute favorite plot device: Hero gets in danger, bad guy slowly raises his weapon to kill him, then the bad guy keels over revealing a smirking supporting cast member. Honestly, some "battle scenes" were just a ten minute long daisy chain of this scene.
Pretty much everything else
So Hercules is traveling around with his rugged band of misfits working as mercenaries. A shady king hires them to attack some villages. He does his best to train the sad peasants into men, and after a lengthy, rousing training montage, they learn one unbreakable tactic - hide behind your shields and wait until The Rock kills everyone.
The freshly trained army steps into a trap wrought by half naked, slippery demon people. They attack the Rock with scythes, which is undoubtedly symbolism for residual communist phobia in America. They eventually ward them off and do a couple more battles. Just after their final victory, the soundtrack introduces a strange, guilty feeling. Apparently, The Rock and his men have been helping a king take over innocent towns all along. The Rock feels immensly guilty for aiding in such injustice, then throws a hissy fit in the middle of a royal feast. The crew reluctantly take their cut of the conquest and leaves. It is then that he inspires his men to get revenge on the king for his betrayal and just, you know, kill all of them or something.
My question is this - why does a man who has been supposedly working as a famed mercenary for decades have a fifth grader's understanding of the consequences of war? It's not like the evil king did anything completely unexpected or cruel after he captured the rivaling city. He just sort of laughed maniacally while Hercules stared at him.
Figure 3: "Man I love war. I hope there are no negative social consequences though."
The rest is a heroic cascade of feel good filmography. It turns out that Hercules did himself a favor when he taught the army to do nothing but hide behind their shields. Three mangled guard dogs, four tipped cauldrons, one broken statue, and one dead supporting actor later and everything is right as rain. The army Hercules trained embraced him as their mighty leader (after watching him kill about a third of them, I would too). We also got to see the sleazy traitor guy swoop in to save the day (though he didn't woop like Han Solo did, which was disappointing).
The meaning of Greece, myth, and life
After all the bad guys died, all that was left to do is close the book on mighty Hercules, who presumably went on to spend the rest of his life carousing with hairy men and conceiving hundreds of children with their wives. The movie ends with a very special summary of Greek mythology - be yourself . That's all those stupid poets were trying to say. It doesn't matter whether you are a god, a centaur, or a Friday night Smackdown headliner. What makes a hero is someone who isn't afraid to be themselves.
Oddly, I am OK with this. To their credit, the movie was what they wanted it to be. It was ignorantly fun. I didn't pay 11.50 to experience the under-appreciated nuances of Athenian culture. I was just there to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ride a Hydra. As long as you keep those expectations (and you aren't afraid to just be yourself), you will surely enjoy this film.