Magazine article Variety

'Hercules' Not a Labor to Watch

Magazine article Variety

'Hercules' Not a Labor to Watch

Article excerpt

On paper, Brett Ratner sounds like such an improbable choice to direct a large-scale ancient Greek epic that, going into his "Hercules," one could only hope for a less aggressively preposterous affair than Renny Harlin's bargain-basement "The Legend of 1-lercules" from earlier this year. The happy surprise is that Ratner's "Hercules" is more than a mere improvement on its predecessor. It's a grandly staged, solidly entertaining, old-fashioned adventure movie that does something no other Hercules movie has quite done before: It cuts the mythical son of Zeus down to human size (or as human as you can get while still being played by Dwayne Johnson). The result is a far classier pic than Paramount's frenetic trailer foretold, albeit one that will struggle to find its sea legs at a crowded and underperforming summer box office. Overseas prospects look sunnier.

Ratner's film owes its counter-canonical premise to the late author Steve Moore, whose five-issue Radical Comics series "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" proffered a Here who was markedly more man than god, his supposedly divine paternity a useful legend but perhaps no better than that. Screenwriters Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos have sanded down many of Moore's rougher edges for this more family-friendly enterprise, but they've built on the idea of the warrior hero as a self-conscious myth-maker, inventing practical, real-world explanations for all of his seemingly superhuman feats. If the gods exist, they're nowhere to be seen here. All those supernatural beings and phenomena can be explained as mere tricks of the light, or the mind, which Hercules' dutiful nephew and self-appointed biographer Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) transfigures into legend.

The stories prove good for business, Hercules being in the mercenary-for-hire trade, which he practices in concert with a quartet of trusted confidants: Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a childhood friend who rose with the orphaned Hercules through the ranks of the Athenian army; the fearsome Amazonian warrior Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal); shell-shocked mute TVdeus (impressive Norwegian actor Aksel Henil ie); and mystical seer Amphiaraus (a superbly hammy Ian McShane), who sees much but is at a loss to unravel the mystery of the incident in Hercules' past that turned him from conquering hero into restless wanderer.

The group has one sole objective: a last big score that will allow them to settle into early retirement. Opportunity knocks in the form of Princess Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), who implores Hercules and his cohorts to come to the aid of her embattled father, the kindly King Cotys (John Hurt), whose kingdom of Thrace finds itself at war with the powerful sorcerer Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). …

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