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Dwayne Johnson's 'Hercules' Is Surprisingly, Uh ... Good?

By Dustin Rowles | Film | July 25, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | July 25, 2014 |

I do not care for swords-and-sandals pics. Or Greek mythology flicks. I can’t think of one that I’ve really and truly enjoyed off the top of my head: 300 was visually interesting, but not my thing (gleaming abs, notwithstanding). Immortal with Henry Cavill was likewise visually impressive but dull as mud, and I’d honestly rather watch all four Transformers movies than watch the two Clash of Titans movies again. Angelina Jolie’s Beowulf? Guh. Troy. Prince of Persia. Alexander. Pass. Pass. Pass. They’re all self-important and pretentious, and none of them (including Gladiator) are as good as the people in the films think they are.

The problem I’ve always found with these films is that they have no sense of humor. They’re self-serious, boring, lacking in charm, and more importantly, none of them feature The Rock.

Hercules, directed by Brett Ratner (yes, that Brett Ratner) changes everything by injecting into a playful version of the Hercules myth a sense of real fun. There are some really great action sequences (especially in IMAX 3D), the storyline has a sense of frivolity, and most importantly, Dwayne Johnson brings charm, huge f**king muscles, and a keen sense of humor to Hercules.

The Rock plays a guy named “Hercules,” but he’s not exactly the demi-god son of Zeus. However, he does play upon that legend. He’s a mercenary, and he and his team work together to take out bad guys (for gold) and grow the legend of Hercules to such an exalted level that the people of Thrace actually believe he’s the real Hercules. He’s kind of a con artist, to be honest, but he’s a good-hearted one. He and his team (which includes characters played by Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and the stand-out Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) are lured by John Hurt’s Lord Cotys to fight off an army of supposed centaurs and save Thrace from half-horse half-man pillagers.

But it’s not exactly what it seems, and things eventually get complicated.

There are some decent action-movie twists at play, and a little texture and depth in the flashbacks to Hercules pre-Mercenary life, but that’s not what makes Hercules a good movie. What makes it good is sly magnetism of Johnson, the tongue-in-cheek humor of Ian McShane, and the metal kick-assery of the group’s archer, Atalanta, played by Norwegian Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, who is kind of like Katniss Everdeen crossed with Xena. She will fuck you up, and you will ask for more.

I was fairly convinced that early reviews for Hercules (it’s sitting near 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) were misleading, and while the lowered expectations for a Brett Ratner film may be working for it critically, it’s still a very good time at the movies. Ratner manages to bring some of that buddy comedy sensibility from the Rush Hour flicks to Hercules without pushing it into camp territory. Granted, there are some ridiculous scenes (The Rock picking up a horse and throwing it twenty feet, for one), but they are done with such mirth, and with such a huge smirk on Johnson’s face that’s impossible not to give into the magic of Dwayne Johnson’s charisma.

The plot is spare, but the action scenes are epic, idiotic, and excessively fun. Dwayne Johnson is typically a great addition to an ensemble cast, but he’s never really found a film that he could carry by himself. We all love The Rock, and we love movies with the Rock in them, but we don’t love movies where The Rock is the lead. Until Hercules. This is the movie that Dwayne Johnson was meant to make: An 80’s action movie with a 90’s buddy cop sensibility and impressive, huge, expensive modern special effects. I’m just as surprised as anyone that Hercules is as good as it is.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.