What makes a man a hero? Is it a miraculous, mystical birth, his possession of supernatural god like powers, the daring deeds and legends that he has built up around himself, or is it something more? Is it his desire to do something bigger than himself, to honor a calling that others would not answer, and which will set others free from the chains of enslavement and death? Is it his actions to push harder, faster, through pain and suffering so that others can be set free? This is the central thread of Hercules, directed by Brett Ratner and which stars Dwayne Johnson as mythologies first and greatest hero.
Having completed his legendary 12 Labours, and earned his place in mythology, Hercules (Johnson), the demi god son of Zeus wanders the land with his loyal group of companions (Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie & Ian McShane) selling his sword and legend to the highest bidder as a mercenary. Called upon by King Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) to train his army and save their lands from a tyrannical warlord, Hercules soon begins to suspect that things are not as they seem, and sets out to make them right, embracing his lineage as the son of a god, and his destiny to become the greatest hero the world has ever seen.
Dwayne Johnson is Hercules, there can be no doubt about that. Every frame of this film is filled with his strength, passion and ferocity as the world’s first hero. Johnson dedicated himself to portraying the character completely, hitting the gym harder than ever to craft a body worthy of a god, and infusing Hercules with his own passion and enthusiasm for the hero and his mighty deeds. Although he is a legend Johnson portrays Hercules simply as a man, a man possessed of superhuman strength and otherworldly powers, but a man who can still fall prey to folly, grief, tragedy and pain, and who is searching for redemption. Johnson, who looks like a mountain on screen, is also smart enough not to flex or pose as the great hero, knowing that there is no need to, it was also cool to see him clad in armour and his lion skin, which added a dose of reality to the character. He’s also pretty adapt when it comes to dispatching bad guys with his monumental club, and he gets in on the action, never letting up. But the greatest part comes for Johnson when Hercules finally accepts his status as god, breaking loose his chains and the limitations that they caused. It is a truly epic moment!
Hercules companions also distinguish themselves alongside the almighty legend. Rufus Sewell’s Autolycus is a crafty blade master, possessed of a mercenary spirit and a quick wit, and who’s always looking out for the next gig. Ingrid Bolso Berdal is one tough chick as Amazonian archer Atalanta, and can handle herself at all times. Aksel Hennie is an absolute feral madman as the axe swinging Tydeus. Reece Ritchie gets the coveted role of Iolaus, Hercules’s nephew, and the teller of his grand tales, who uses his uncle’s mighty legend for his own advantage whenever he can pull it off, and finally Ian McShane is a ball of energy as Amphiaraus, a warrior soothsayer and Hercules spiritual counsel who steals every scene that he’s in. Joseph Fiennes has a guest appearance as the arrogant, and vile Athenian King Eurystheus, Irina Shayk is an absolute stunner as Hercules wife, Megara and John Hurt doesn’t disappoint as King Cotys.
Hercules is bold, dynamic and packed to the brim with action. Director Bret Ratner infuses the film with a barbarian grit and gore, which makes the action believable and a lot more fun to watch. The stakes are high in this one, when people get taken down they don’t get up, and you understand the need for Hercules to fight and survive. The fight scenes are breathtaking, particularly when Hercules rides out in his beast of a chariot. But it’s not just the film’s action scenes that have scope and scale, the set building and production design is enormous, recalling the scale that previous strongmen actors such as Steve Reeves and Reg Park would be accustomed to, and it looks incredible up on an IMAX screen.
This Hercules film places its depth and thematic core on the man behind the legend, and parallels can be seen in relation to our current day celebrity culture. When the legends fade, and only the man is left can he step up to what is required, and save those who cannot save themselves. Sometimes it takes a man to embrace his destiny, and forge a new legend for himself, and Dwayne Johnson does this with the force of the gods as Hercules.
The gods will tremble at the power and the passion of the world’s first hero, a hero named Hercules.