Skip to main content

I'm just a mercenary, fighting for gold.

Hercules
(2014)

(SPOILERS) If there’s one thing that can be relied on in Hollywood, it’s Brett Ratner’s aptitude for turning any silk purse he stumbles over into a sow’s ear. Ever since he plunged an all-star cast and great script for Red Dragon into pungent mediocrity (it’s okay, we’ve still got Manhunter), there’s a fear that his each new project will be an opportunity for to dash someone else’s potential. So far, we’ve escaped lightly. True, he desecrated the X-Men franchise with Last Stand. But then there was the not-bad Tower Heist (at least, it was a sign the old Eddie Murphy still exists, so perhaps I was just grateful for small mercies). Now Ratner has made Hercules, a lousy movie about Hercules that wasn’t the lousy movie about Hercules directed by Renny Harlin. The comfort is, even if Ratner had no involvement, this would still be a lousy movie about Hercules.


Hercules is based on the recently departed Steve Moore’s Thracian Wars comic book. Alan Moore and his interplanetary beard kicked up a stink about the perceived opportunism of Paramount/MGM recognising Moore on ads only after his death. Which may be the case, but Moore (Alan) needs no excuse to grind his axe with Hollywood. The main question is why this myth-busting take on the demi-god was considered to be a remotely appealing idea. I understand that Moore’s take, while it intentionally moved away from the mythological beasties, stopped short of actually decrying Hercules’ status as a son of Zeus. Even then, one has to wonder; what’s the appeal of the character, shorn of the challenges that made him famous? You may as well have a barely-out-of-nappies Arnie lumbering around present day (1970s) New York.


It’s shocking how, post-Harryhausen, Hollywood has failed to have the slightest clue about how to render the Greek myths on screen. One would have thought the opportunities were endless and seductive, what with the leaps and bounds in effects technology, but instead they’ve been mostly hamstrung. The Clash of the Titans remake was miscast, misdirected (by the previously reliable Louis Letterier) and only enabled a sequel thanks to the dire 3D foisted upon it.


Ironically, the lesser offenders are the contemporary Percy Jackson & the Olympians pictures, which at least appear to have a genuine affection for the original legends and iconography. Troy seemed particularly unforgivable at the time, embarrassed to admit to the deity-fuelled antics of The Illiad in a post-Gladiator world (Clash is similarly botched, grit and crew-cuts and shakycam imbued). I hasten to add, I really like the Director’s Cut of that movie, but the ass-backwards thinking that inspired it seems to have also infected the limp charade that is Hercules. Hollywood even manages to shoot itself in the foot when appealing to the Christian market, introducing scepticism to Exodus when what’s needed for box office is unquestioning belief. If Tinsel Town isn’t willing to be cynically devotional for the sake of the dollar, then all hope is lost.


In Hercules, the titular muscle-bound hulk, who trades quips in modern style with his modern pals, isn’t the son of Zeus at all. He’s a warrior, all right, but his amazing feats are a mixture of the support lent by his crew, the oratory of his annoying nephew, and the (hugely patronising in visualisation, but that’s Ratner) natural capacity for exaggeration his fame encourages. 


His gang consists of seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane, reaping the scant laughs, and looking remarkably robust for 70-plus), Autylocus (Rufus Sewell, the Han Solo type, right down to running off with the gold and coming back at the end; the most shocking thing here is that Sewell doesn’t turn out to be a bad guy), Tydeus (Aksel Hennie, giving it some with his boggle eyes) and Amazon archer Atlanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, a more toned, statuesque and less frosty Nicole Kidman type). Oh, and the enormously annoying Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), the PR-guy and Hercules’ Scrappy Doo. Of all the characters who needed a spear through the temple…


Hercules, of course, has a haunted past. A really boring one involving a not-at-his-best Joseph Fiennes (he rarely has been since Shakespeare in Love). Herc wants to retire somewhere quiet, beside the seaside, beside the sea. So it is that his band of mercs takes a gig for a shed load of gold from Lord Cotys (John Hurt, who clearly decided it was a chance to catch some rays and let his beard unfurl some), training Thracians to fight the Bessi tribe, who are endangering them. Inevitably there are tales of the supernatural qualities of the Bessi, which turn out to be bunkum (they’re not centaurs! They’re men on horses! Just look at the CG go!) As do the good intentions of Cotys and his right-hand Mullan.


This is tiresome stuff, only occasionally enlivened by the Brit and Nordic thesps on vacation. The most egregious sin is that we keep getting visual cues – via tall tales, dreams or hallucinations – of the sort every kid wants from a mythical movie; the labours depicted in an obviously CGI but still encouraging enough manner. It’s as if the tub of director actually wants to make a bomb (this didn’t bomb, but neither was it an out-and-out hit); the only noteworthy aspect of the not-centaur reveal is that I’m quite sure any watching 12 year old’s heart leapt at the thought they might finally see bona fide strange creatures, only for it to sink when realisation dawned.


As such, it’s an odd movie. Revisionist takes are ten-a-penny (remember Clive Owen as King Arthur, again shorn of magic?), and they are rarely successful on their own terms. This is no exception.  Its clueless director throws in an obligatory f-word (“Fucking centaurs”, a common oath in ancient Greece) and blends current colloquialisms with cod-Shakespearean tones. There’s zero finesse. Ratner’s action chops have improved a little since Last Stand. There’s an entertainingly mighty punch during Hercules’ first mano a mano dust-up, and a reasonably executed fight against the Bessi, but big set piece CG climax is dull.  


Somehow, Hercules cost $100m, and somehow it managed to make nearly $250m. Which, in Dwayne Johnson terms, is his most successful star picture (that isn’t a pre-existing franchise). Johnson’s okay. He’s ever affable, but he doesn’t have any edge. This may be why, as much as everyone likes him, he hasn’t become a bona fide star (he doesn’t get bums on seats). Ratner’s always been a moronic moviemaker, but now he can add a killjoy feather to his cap. As one of the characters says on hearing Iolaus stories, “What a load of crap!” Which just about sums up Hercules’ director’s career.



Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

You’d be surprised how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist.

Moon Knight (2022) (SPOILERS) Now, this is an interesting one. Not because it’s very good – Phase IV MCU? Hah! – but because it presents its angle on the “superhero” ethos in an almost entirely unexpurgated, unsoftened way. Here is a character explicitly formed through the procedures utilised by trauma-based mind control, who has developed alters – of which he has been, and some of which he remains, unaware – and undergone training/employment in the military and private mercenary sectors (common for MKUltra candidates, per Dave McGowan’s Programmed to Kill ). And then, he’s possessed by what he believes to be a god in order to carry out acts of extreme violence. So just the sort of thing that’s good, family, DisneyPlus+ viewing.