My friend was so excited to see Hercules that he paid for everyone else’s ticket. He went on and on about how this was the role The Rock had always dreamed of playing. He talked it up so much that I was actually excited to see it. Little did I know, I was signing up to witness the most hilariously awful piece of cinema since the classics Iron Sky or Dead Snow.
The realization that this movie was terrible took a while to set in. The first few minutes are spent setting up the Hercules legend and just for a second you start thinking this is going to be good. But once the Greek myth is over and the actual story begins it quickly descends into ridiculousness.
First of all, The Rock cannot act to save his life. Seriously, the guy only had one facial expression the entire time. Imagine if the grimace, serious-face and constipated-look made a love child and you have The Rock’s face for the whole movie.
To add insult to injury, all of the characters are just as one dimensional as The Rock’s acting. Even Amphiarus, played by Ian McShane, serves no other purpose than to break the fourth wall enough so that the audience will accept the accidental hilarity of the movie. To McShane’s credit, he owns the role and gives it his all, but the writers did not give his character a lot to work with.
Nor did the writers invest in making their characters seem like authentic ancient Greeks. Everyone in the movie speaks just like they would if they were at a bar in 21st century America (except for The Rock, who talks like a burly robot). Then, just to add insult to injury, not one character ever utters the word “phalanx.” The military maneuver is used over and over again. In fact, much of the plot rests on the use of the phalanx. But no one in the movie EVER, I’m talking, NOT ONCE, says the word “phalanx”. They always refer to it as a “shield wall” or something equally inane and incorrect.
Not only was the phalanx never referred to as its proper name, but every time the maneuver was used it was blatantly obvious how little this movie invested in CG. Watching the stiff sea of computer generated arms and shoulders move across the screen like an old game of Space Invaders was more entertaining than the movie itself.
Then there were the extremely unrealistic quirks in the plot. Towards the end, giant braziers of burning coals are spilled onto a staircase to stall an advancing army. Instead of placidly burning on the sandy surface, like coals are supposed to burn, the minute they touch the ground they erupt into an enormous flame. This inferno lasts for what seems like the better part of two minutes before the lazy CG magically makes it fade away. You might make the argument that this was due to intervention from the gods to aid Hercules, but it’s just too out of place to ignore.
During the same scene, the story does a complete 180 degree turn. Up to this point, The Rock’s Hercules is not actually the son of god, but a lucky mercenary who has perpetuated the myth of his god-like powers. But at the end of the film, when having superpowers becomes extremely convenient, all he needs is a pep-talk from Amphiarus and all of a sudden he can lift like Superman.
Finally, the movie accidentally has some very dark and violent undertones. The audience witnesses Hercules kill a man in cold blood with a blade to the stomach. It’s meant to be a moment of heroic vengeance, but it just comes off as evil. Then there’s Hercules’ nephew, Iolaus. Iolaus is a storyteller but his greatest dream is to be a solder. His story perpetuates the theme that actors and writers are pansies and the only way to really live is to kill a lot of people.
The film’s one saving grace, carried by Ian McShane, is that it does not take itself seriously. It is very self-aware and is not bashful about its accidental goofiness. If you’re looking for a fun action movie or something to make a drinking game out of, Hercules is a great choice. If you’re looking to witness some serious cinema, stay far away.