Monday, 28 July 2014

Hercules (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you're interested in watching a (somewhat) action-centric Hercules film, which does a portion of justice for the Greek mythology character.

Skip it... if Dwayne Johnson as Hercules is your primary reason for even considering to see this film, as his screen time and importance seems diminished in-and-amongst the sometimes convuluted plot and over abundance of unnecessary and uninteresting characters

Hercules poster
"It's certainly the best Hercules film of the year, but is that really saying anything significant?"

Hercules is a film directed by Brett Ratner, and stars Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt and Ian McShane. Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

3. That number signifies the amount of Hercules films that have now been released this year, with Brett Ratner's Hercules ending the run for the Greek mythology character. Whereas we've seen the same premise for films that release in the same year (Deep Impact and Armageddon, for example), the fact that we've had 3 films which sport the exact same main character is unacceptable from Hollywood. If I need to refresh your memory in regards to which were the first and second Hercules films, they would be the atrocious Legend of Hercules, and the Asylum's horrific Hercules Reborn. Both have proven to be some of the year's most excruciating cinematic experiences, with Hercules Reborn currently claiming the "Worst of 2014" pedestal for it's own. With the announcement of a third-and-final Hercules film, directed by the often underachieving Brett Ratner, most famous for the X-Men disaster, X-Men: The Last Stand, people were less than thrilled; namely, me. Sure, Dwayne Johnson seemed a perfect fit for the gargantuan lead character, and Brett Ratner was most certainly an improvement over Renny Harlin or Nick Lyon, but neither of these makes this into a passable film; Maleficent was better than both Harlin and Lyon's efforts, but that doesn't make it at all a worthwhile or beneficial cinematic experience. The question is whether or not Ratner has concocted a mindless but fun summer blockbuster. And the answer to that question is both yes and no. 

It can not be doubted that there are certainly entertaining portions of Hercules; the short-but-effective introduction to our main character, which highlights but a few of our hero's labors is a rather entertaining period of film. All of the fight sequences on offer have moments of fantastic choreography and pace, and all the set pieces, make-up and props look either authentic or just plain awesome. It's certainly not these components that bring Hercules down to a disappointing level; it's the fact that Hercules doesn't feel like a main character in his own, self-entitled film. The one thing (literally, the one thing) that The Legend of Hercules managed to execute well was it's emphasis on the character of Hercules; here, on the other hand, Hercules is dealt with as-if he's a secondary character. There are so many other characters involved in the film that we're meant to care for and become emotionally attached to, Dwayne Johnson simply doesn't get enough significant screen time. What he manages to do is fantastic, for he gives it his all in this role that seems to be made for him, though it's simply not enough to warrant the films title being Hercules. Johnson has to contend with the rest of his "hero team", as I'll refer to them; they're pretty much the B-List Avengers for the Brett Ratner Hercules universe. They consist of wise spear man, badass bow-wielding warrioress, average sword-and-dagger dude, animalistic berserker, as well as Johnson's Hercules. I haven't listed actual character names, because honestly, you're not going to remember any of them from the second you leave the theatre. I certainly couldn't, nor could my friend that I saw the film with. So these characters who are given substantial periods of screen time that detract from Hercules', are not at all memorable in regards to the fundamental and most basic component behind any given character; a god-damned name?! Here is where my biggest problem with Hercules comes to flourish.

These characters also seem to take away screen time from the villain of the film, Rhesues; a character who seems far more interesting and memorable than any member of Hercules' posse. Where was his spotlight? Where was his moment of glory? In total, he gets quite possibly 15 minutes of screen time, and I feel generous saying even that. So, in recap, we're given a minuscule portion of screen time for a seemingly far more interesting character in Rhesues, so that we can get more screen time for a group of warriors who follow Hercules, whose plights we honestly couldn't care twice for. It doesn't help that most of the performances for these specific characters are rather poor, most notably Ingrid Bolso Berdal's character, the Amazonian warrior-princess Atlanta, who is played so stoically and emotionally-detached, that you can't help but feel nothing in regards to her trials and tribulations. Do we care for her if she, say, got stabbed? Would we cry out in terror, lean forward in anticipation, or curl up in despair? Most certainly not! I wouldn't have cared twice if she had have fallen off a cliff! This is the issue with the vast majority of the side characters that makes Hercules feel more like an ensemble film than an actual Hercules film. 

Fortunately, not all is bad in the way of performances and characters. Like I've mentioned, Dwayne Johnson's performance is fantastic, and he totally embodies the character of Hercules. John Hurt is acceptable in his role as Lord Cotys, the ruler of the kingdom of Thrace, as he serves as a believable leader. Askel Hennie plays one of the members of Hercules' posse, and gives an animalistic and brutal performance, which is also accented by some incredibly emotional moments throughout the film. Though the poor performances far outweigh the quantity of acceptable or even impressive performances, those that do exceed the rest of the cast in terms of quality should certainly not be discounted. And whilst I can't give the entire cast, or the screenplay for that matter, approval, what I can say is superior to the other Hercules films that have been released this year, are the costumes, the set design, the make-up, and anything else along those lines. Compared to The Legend of Hercules, or even one of the other sword-and-sandal epics that was released this year, 300: Rise of an Empire, the sets are absolutely outstanding. All the cities feel huge and populated, and any landscapes or battlefields are fleshed out with all different assortments of detail. The make-up team also exceeded expectations, and provided a gritty and effective look for all the actors and actresses. So on this practical aesthetic front, Brett Ratner does manage to meet and surpass any expectations required of him, which is a good sign.

Unfortunately, what lets down the aesthetic portion of the film is the use of the CGI, which is dreadfully poor. Whilst landscapes, cityscapes and CGI-enhanced establishing shots all look rather glorious throughout, it's the more intimate and toned-down CGI that really wrecks a lot of the films aesthetic grandeur, and manages to take the viewer out of the film. A poorly rendered statue isn't a good sight, nor is a poorly constructed destruction shot of a tree, which you can in fact find in the first trailer for the film (1:05 minutes in, to be specific). Many comments reigned in after the first trailer's release, urging Ratner and co. to complete the visual effects for the film, as they looked rather poor on first look. Well, unfortunately, much of the material you would've seen in that first trailer has not been improved upon, and so there is much to be desired in this area of the film making process. This is a rather puzzling issue, considering Ratner's experience with CGI. X-Men: The Last Stand relied heavily upon the use of visual effects, so this lack of consistency between various CGI shots is confusing.

Well, the aesthetic portion of the film has been somewhat downgraded, like a great portion of the film; how about the plot line? Is it interesting? Fun? Well, for the most part. There's nothing too overly convuluted going on here; for the most part, it's quite straight forward. Hercules has to beat up this dude, because he's getting paid to do it. Add in a tragic past, a few confusing political plots and a number of montages, and you have a relatively decent, mind-numbingly stupid Hercules film. Unfortunately, the amount of focus placed upon politically-based story lines is far too numerous, and so we receive even less Dwayne Johnson badassery, and instead, find ourselves with far more John Hurt political talk. It hurts that the action is also rather one dimensional, for the great portion of it's bulk. So when you finally do get a break from the oft-times irritating and mindless dialogue, you get unremarkable and unmemorable action sequences, that again showcase far too little of our main star. Instead, we have to consistently swap back and forth between the members of the Hercules Avengers, watching bow lady (the aforementioned Atlanta) shoot people; wise spear man slowly trudge through the ranks of enemies; average sword-and-dagger dude toss throwing daggers all over the place; as well watch our animalistic berserker run through and smash the heads of enemies everywhere. Whilst our animalistic berserker is certainly entertaining to watch, the rest of the crew is either too slow and draggy, or completely invincible. There is barely a moment of tension, and this means that the battle sequences have little-to-no sense of urgency, which is a complete must in this kind of mindless action film! 

Hercules' lack of really frantic and impressive action sequences makes the entire film seem somewhat pointless; if we don't get enough spectacle in the action component of the film, what are we meant to grapple onto? What is meant to make us want to view the film time and time again? The opening introduction to our main character? I could probably find a Youtube version of this short sequence in a few months, after release. Dwayne Johnson's performance? You could probably form a compilation of all his best scenes in this film into a 10-15 minute video... and you'd probably have everything of substance that he did in the film. Sure, the sets, props, costumes and make-up are all fantastic, but this doesn't make up for the film's numerous shortcomings. Whether it's odd pacing or dialogue, the screenplay fails the film's desire to see itself as a mindless sword-and-sandals epic, and turns it into a cliched, boring and convuluted mess. You have moments of true beauty and brilliance, moments which will have you smiling ear to ear; it's just these moments are too far from each other to warrant approval. It's certainly the best Hercules film of the year, but is that really saying anything significant? In my opinion, it's not saying enough to find itself with a positive rating.



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