I was initially unsure of whether to include this film as Hercules comes from classic Greek mythology and I was unfamiliar with the actual comic that inspired it. But after seeing the film, it really is quite obvious that it’s not directly inspired by the original myths and legends of the hero, but instead is one step removed and is adapted from a comic book from Radical Publishing called Hercules: The Thracian Wars which takes the air out of Hercules’s legend and places him as a mercenary with a storyteller trumping up his exploits. When this film came out, I generally heard negative reviews about it which made me less likely to see it, though many noted the film’s mis-marketing as a factor which sold the film with Hercules being the legend that he is known for. In fact, nearly all of the opening few minutes of the movie which detail his fantastic exploits showed up in the trailer. But, as I wasn’t deluded by the trailers and knew what I was going in for, I appreciated the film’s exploration of the difference between myth and reality. What I didn’t fully buy into was when the film started buying into its own sense of mythical reality towards the end.
To start things off by making a little clarification. This is not an origin story for Hercules, this is not about the gods. There are no mythical beasts roaming the countryside. Instead, there are a band of heroes that live off of the stories told of their leader until they make enough money from “one last job” to retire. There are clearly elements of other films and stories in here, you get to see the group perform a hustle of sorts at the beginning of the film. There is also the element of the band of heroes where each member has a unique skill that they are exceedingly good at, from archery to knives to sheer berserker rage. The one member that did feel a little bit out of place in this band was Ian McShane’s Amphiaraus who is equal parts seer, warrior, and weaponsmith. There are several moments with some primitive gadgetry going on with extending blades and such that felt a bit out of place compared to everything else that was going on. The other members were quite likable, though fairly generic. Atalanta was a great archer with skills similar in scope to Legolas and a general air that she is better than any man, though never specifically uses her feminine wiles for any purpose. Autolycus is the most gold-minded of the group who leaves when the money comes into question over the ethics only to quite obviously come back when things look darkest. Tydeus was the most interesting character and one that’s not often seen in these types of films as an almost animalistic warrior with severe trauma over the horrors of war he saw as a child, but completely loyal to Hercules and the rest of the troop. And of course Dwayne Johnson himself as Hercules was a great lead who was able to pull off the quieter moments in between the battles to show him as a likable character as well as the the battle scenes where he gets to be a badass.
The movie’s real feat is the way it explores the differences between myth, legend, and reality. Many of the moments are handled relatively subtly during flashbacks, like when it’s revealed that the multi-headed hydra was merely a group of bandits wearing serpent headdresses, or that the centaurs were merely cavalry half hidden in the fog. The storytelling becomes an integral part of this tale as well as a source of comedy when the characters begin to make a point of shooting holes in their own legend. Or when the image of Cerberus is revealed to be the drugged memory of a trio of rabid wolves. While the actual legends of Hercules is no longer clear in my mind, the twelve labors are a great touchstone in this film. It’s especially true when you may realize that the stories are always referred to as merely the labors, rather than the 12 labors. And it’s during the course of the events of this film that he completes his twelfth and final labor. It’s an interesting question as to whether or not the film itself is trying to say that this Hercules really is the son of a god. His labors in the film are shown to be exaggerated through the stories, but they were still impressive feats. And the film ends with him performing truly inhuman acts of strength as he begins to believe in his own legend. But there’s also the layer that this film is itself a story that is being told, and even though it purports to be the truth, the narrator was shown to have been wrong once before when predicting his own death.
There are a handful of battle sequences through the film, and they are generally the highlights of the film where the bulk of the fun comes from. There’s often a lot of debate on how films like this will dumb down or blunt the violence in order to get a PG-13, but instead Hercules merely had a lack of blood with its violence, and its presence is not really missed. While not massive in scale, the battles are large enough that the chaos depicted works well for the scene, and the moments of blood that did make it into the movie are during the more important scenes and it allows them to have a greater impact than they would have if there had been blood everywhere throughout the battles. There are also a couple twists during the film that did catch me slightly unaware, the first one was a great reveal where John Hurt’s Lord Cotys turns out to be the oppressive ruler rather than the ragtag underdog, though looking back it seems like there was ample evidence that something was amiss before the true reveal. The final battle where Hercules performs some truly god-like feats of strength were a little bit too far over the top and unbelievable in the world of the film where it set up that the legend was exaggeration and the true feats of strength were always within the realm of believability. It also set up how the feats of strength were actually tricks of opportunity and deception, like when he hid the arrowhead in his fist to kill the warrior with his punch. It would have worked better if there were some clues that showed how the chains were old and weak, or even that the fire was licking at the base of the statue to weaken it. But those are minor complaints in a generally fun and enjoyable film filled with likable characters and impressive battle scenes. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.