Director Brett Ratner’s latest is a mix of action, comedy and loose references to Greek mythology. So keen, it seems, were Ratner and his screenwriters to create this mix that instead made a mess. The script lacks any cohesion and feels as though it was written by a group of frat boys on the back of a series of beer mats that were randomly thrown together the morning of a deadline. The film struggles between the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of the RED series and the misplaced self-importance of Troy. What results is essentially The Expendables B.C., which would be fine, if only the tone could remain consistent.
The film begins with a narration asking the audience if they want to know the truth about Hercules, and there are numerous hints dropped throughout the film that he is not a demi-god but that he and his retinue have abused this legendary reputation. However, at the end of the film, Hercules raises a 40-foot statue alone under the encouragement of his seer companion, who then says he is in fact the son of Zeus, only then to state in the final narration that he wasn’t after all and it doesn’t matter because you don’t need to be a demi-god to be a hero. Confused? I was. Maybe it’s so deep I drowned.
A synopsis of the plot is not easy, but here goes. The film follows Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of mercenaries dealing with monsters and rebellions for rich city states. They are sought out by King Cotys (John Hurt), who asks them to train up his army and defeat a band of centaurs who are storming across Greece and pillaging every village they find. Meanwhile, Hercules is plagued by memories of his dead wife and children, who it is believed he murdered, though he has no memory of this. He also falls in love with Cotys’ daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) who is, handily enough, a widow and has a son who adores him and knows all his legends off by heart (which he says about ten times across the course of the film).
These plots end up becoming incidental to a series of battles, bizarrely tangential dialogue scenes, and unnecessary twist after unnecessary twist. I resisted the urge to describe the plot as ‘then this happened and then this happened and then this happened…’ but that is genuinely how it felt when I was watching it.
The script and direction are such a mess that you can’t develop any real attachment to the badly drawn characters and the actors don’t know what to do – even the ones who actually can act. They range between taking it seriously (Johnson), not taking it seriously at all (Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Ian McShane), taking it too seriously (Joe Anderson), being just very wry (Rufus Sewell) or simply being wooden (Ingrid Bolso Berdal).
To be fair, McShane and Sewell are fun and Ferguson is the one actor who makes the best of what little she has to give a good performance. The women in this film are given very short shrift, ranging from the silent (and dead) wife to the crowd of cooing extras, from the plot device Ferguson plays to the bloke-y female member of Hercules’ entourage, suggesting the only way for a woman to be strong is to become a man.
Perhaps I have been a little unfair on the film as it’s supposed to be an entertaining, no-brainer romp, but I thought at least I’d enjoy it. Unfortunately, I can’t say I did. I’m sure many people will and, if it looks like your thing, by all means see it. But, I would suggest that if you want a popcorn blockbuster that you go and see Transformers or Guardians of the Galaxy instead.