Dwayne Johnson is Hercules in ‘a fairly entertaining 98 minutes, if swords and sandals and ass-kicking float your boat’ says MacDara Conroy

Hercules, this year’s second flick to feature the titular hero of antiquity, comes not without its measure of controversy. Alan Moore, the wizard of Northampton, and a man who’s never been shy about his distaste for the Hollywood machine, has called for a boycott over the alleged ill-treatment of his late colleague Steve Moore (no relation) on whose comic series the film is based. The Dissolve has a proper breakdown of the whys and wherefores, and the full picture remains unclear at best – what is clear is that Steve Moore’s name is in the credits, despite what’s claimed to be his wishes to the contrary – but the situation nonetheless casts a grim pall over this latest star-making vehicle for the man formerly known as The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. Still, it’s no worse than the pall cast by the frankly terrible 3D conversion, which takes what might well be a sumptuous feast for the eyes and forces you to watch it through tinted shades, and with feck-all sense of depth in any case. I can’t judge on the visual merits of the 2D version, if there is one, but it has to be better looking than this.

I suppose it’s a blessing, though, that crappy post-production is the worst sin committed by a film made by Brett Ratner, a top contender for the title of ‘auteur of shit’. The only other serious negative, as much as it pains me to say it, is Dwayne Johnson himself: such a highlight in last year’s otherwise problematic Pain & Gain, as the star attraction here he’s disappointingly wooden, and weirdly ill-suited to the role of a larger-than-life hero made in story more than deed, considering his background in sports entertainment.

The rest has more going for it than expected. Johnson’s Hercules is basically Thor, with his own band of brothers-in-arms, comprising Brits with familiar faces (Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane) and Nordic thespians unknown outside their home region (Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). Unlike Thor, however, this Hercules is more a PR stunt than an actual divine being.

A swift prologue establishes his legend has grown from the trumped-up tales propagated by his storyteller nephew (Reece Ritchie). Those fabled 12 labours? Mere missions carries out in the service of King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes), but the embellishment of their telling and retelling serves Herc’s purpose as a soldier of fortune. While Johnson boats superhuman stature and physique, he’s a mortal like the rest of us, and one with a shocking past. But those are facts well hidden in a scheme that’s worked wonders for Herc and his pals; make your enemies believe you’re the immortal warrior son of Zeus, and you’ll face few challenges.

The main thrust of the story concerns Herc and Company’s one-last-job as they’re hired by the Thracian King Cotys (John Hurt) to join his mean-spirited general (Peter Mullan) and lead his weak army against a tyrannical warlord, Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), who may or may not be a sorcerer fronting a horde of centaurs. Naturally, with so many half-truths in play, things turn out a little more complicated than that, and Herc is soon fighting his toughest fights yet.

Meanwhile, Ratner can’t resist referencing – or lifting from – everything from Game of Thrones to Gladiator and even Braveheart. But the script’s sideways angle on Ancient Greek legend lifts it a rung above the usual hack-and-slash fodder, and the brisk (though bloodless) spikes of action make for a fairly entertaining 98 minutes, if swords and sandals and ass-kicking float your boat.

More’s the pity that the studios responsible haven’t shown more confidence in this film and its bankable star. The press screening came just two days before general release, and it’s destined to bomb at the US box office (and on Comic-Con weekend and all). The ‘Son of Zeus’ deserves better than that.

Hercules opens nationwide on 25 July


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