When it comes to wrestlers making the transition from the ring to the big screen, there have been very few successes. Even when counted as such, those films are often not what the general consensus would call ‘good.’ Roddy Piper, great in the ring and an outstanding performer, not the best actor. There are a ton of direct to VHS/DVD releases to prove it. Hulk Hogan, the star of such fare as Santa with Muscles, Assault on Death Mountain, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, and the beloved Mr. Nanny and Thunder in Paradise, is barely watchable unless you are under the age of 10. Even any of the current fare put out by recent WWE players and other wrestlers are not that good. Knucklehead with the Big Show – blah. The Chaperone with Triple H – painful. Bending the Rules with Edge – terrible. Stone Cold in The Condemned – not awful, but not good. There has only been one wrestler to break away from his past so completely so as to concentrate on his new career that after a lot of hard work and some stumbles along the way (meaning bad films), that he was able to go back to wrestling after becoming a big movie star and not have it negatively affect his image in any way. That man is The Rock, Dwayne Johnson.
It could have been Tooth Fairy that turned his career around, though highly improbable, but was most likely Faster and then his appearance in Fast Five that really cemented him as a big screen action hero. With roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast & Furious 6 as well as Pain & Gain, Dwayne Johnson now found himself in a big screen adaptation of Steve Moore’s comic book, Hercules and while it is not a big step outside of his comfort zone, it is a summer blockbuster in almost all aspects. Directed by Brett Ratner, the story is a slightly different take on the hero, paying attention to all that has come before, but changing it so that he is not actually a demi-god of any sort. He is just a man and though his trials did indeed happen, he was by no means alone in accomplishing them and some of them were not exactly as they seemed, instead transformed and exaggerated by his nephew, Iolaus and other storytellers. The film follows Hercules and his companions as they take a job in Thrace from Lord Cotys who, unknowingly to them, is quite duplicitous. Without revealing too much more, it is this particular job that is the instigation for what follows.
Johnson is of course quite fantastic in the role of Zeus’ favourite son, though of course in this film there are no gods. He does not overplay or overact the role which could have been done quite easily and it is a huge leap forward from the early days of The Scorpion King and Doom. One of the great things this movie did was put him in a group setting, much like the Fast/Furious films and G.I. Joe had done. Even though Johnson is a charismatic performer when solo, he often works better in a group, being able to bounce his personality off of the other cast members and making him standout more with the opportunities the dialogue would present by doing so. Written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and again, based upon the comic book by Steve Moore, the story finds Hercules a man tormented by the past and unable to come to terms with his own being. It is an interesting character study that the writers give him in context to the action that takes place in the film, but it all comes together in the end with a spectacle that was a little choreographed, but something that was needed to keep the pace of the film up.
Though Mr. Johnson was the main attraction, the filmmakers decided to beef up the cast with some other talented players like Reece Ritchie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, John Hurt and Ian McShane. There were moments of comedic relief where it seemed almost as if Ian McShane would steal the show, and he was quite funny with the timing of his lines dead on target. Sewell is great in literally anything he does while having Fiennes and John Hurt tag along as the villains of the picture was a bit of good casting. The great thing about the cast and the script was that not only were they good, they did not play it off like the Hercules television series. Yes, there was a bit of comedy, but it was not that low-brow type that makes for good syndicated shows. Kevin Sorbo is a good guy, but most people would rather watch The Rock any day of the week.
All in all, Hercules is a good, old-fashioned yet modern day sword and sandal epic that makes for an enjoyable time at the theater. It is by no means a thinking man’s picture, but if you are in for some great action, which does defy a little logic at times (chariot blades!), with some quality actors then look no further. There is one big problem with the film and that is in the fact that it lies to its patrons before they ever hit the theater. If you go expecting fantastical or supernatural elements – there are none. There are no real monsters or creatures to be found in the movie. The film treats it all as a story to build up the legend and the importance of its main character. That is fine, but if you are putting out a trailer to a movie and you stress these things – the movie should feature them. Everything in the trailers are taken out of context and that is what might bother people a little bit. It is not a bad picture because of what it did feature, but it would have been nice to have the trailers advertise exactly what it was supposed to be about. So maybe it was indeed a little misleading, but in the end, it did deliver some matinee fun, just not in the way you were probably expecting.