Fantasy movies are supposed to be escapist fun, but Like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson himself, the latest Hercules flick comes across as a bit too bloated and a bit too serious for its own good.
Perhaps it was foreboding that the poster outside the cinema featured the star's real name rather than his former wrestling moniker. The Rock used to make silly, enjoyable movies where he would bash people with giant planks of wood or fight ridiculous aliens with even more ridiculous guns. Dwayne Johnson sounds like a guy you might get to help you with your taxes.
To be fair on the newly sensible Dwayne, he does seem to be bigger than ever. All the serious acting classes he has no doubt been taking have obviously not cut into his gym time. His neck muscles are so big he looks like an enormous golden bullfrog. His pecs are so massive his nipples actually point downwards. Veins as large as railway tracks look set to burst out of his skin with every flex. I am actually worried about his cardiac health.
Or, as one tween audience member put it as we filed out of the packed theatre, 'Oh my god, his body is so teeheeheehee.'
Anyway, Dwayne approaches the role of Hercules in a manner that is, overall, disappointingly gruff. Aside from one I AM
SPARTACUS HERCULES moment, his performance is sort of dull. Speaking in an odd accent does not an actor make, Dwayne.
There are actually some fantastic character actors amongst the supporting case, including Ian McShane, Joseph Fiennes, John Hurt and Peter Mullan, but, perhaps bemused as to how they ended up in this movie ($), they mostly just ponce about saying the word 'Zeus' in an exaggerated manner.
My main beef with this flick, however, is the odd decision to catheterise much of the fun out of the Hercules story by revealing it, early on, to be a myth.
The movie starts with Hercules' captured nephew (we'll get to that soon), warning his would-be torturers that they are about to get owned by the son of Zeus. Sorry, 'Zyuess'.
We learn the big man's origin story. We see him fight a hydra, and a giant boar and a fricken' giant lion. Yeah! Awesome! Monsters.
Pretty soon, though, we discover that these stories are made up. Hercules is just a plain old mercenary who travels around winning battles with his motley band of followers. They propagate the legends to bolster their own reputation and strike the fear of Zyuess into their enemies. He learnt his radical WWE moves as an orphan growing up on the mean streets of Athens. Naturally.
Oh, and Hercules' family were slain and he must seek vengeance. A bit like in Gladiator.
So the big unit and his posse accept this one final job, see, that is set to make them rich. A hot princess, Ergenia, acting on behalf of her father Cotys (not Curtis, which is what I thought they were saying), offers to pay twice his weight in gold if they can protect Thrace from a marauding army that is rumoured to have centaurs (spoiler alert: there ain't no centaurs).
They offer to pay twice Hercules' weight in gold if he can defend the land. According to the internet, Dwayne weighs 120kg, so that would be 240kg of gold. Assuming the price of gold hasn't fluctuated much since ancient times, that amounts to approximately $10, 711, 440, which was no doubt a hefty sum in those days, even if split five ways. A tempting offer indeed.
Hercules teaches the Thracian army how to Royal Rumble and what follows is a series of pretty impressive battle scenes. Without giving away too much (more) of the plot, at one point our lovable band of rogues begin to wonder if they are fighting for the right side. More mayhem follows, and along the way Hercules discovers that he actually does have morals, that his crew are his family now, that all of us have a hero inside, and all that stuff.
Though some of the battles were cool, this movie would have been so much cooler if it had indulged us a bit with some fantasy elements. All the best scenes were imagined ones about the Hercules myth, or when he was trippin' and having visions. Is Hercules really a story than needs a realistic retelling?
I have probably exaggerated how sober this film is; it does try to be a rip-roaring adventure yarn, but I certainly won't be handing out the word 'rollicking' in this review.
There are attempts at humour as well, many of which drew teenage guffaws from the audience. That being said, the loudest laughs came when a prisoner was getting hit in the head by rocks thrown by an angry crowd, so use that as your guide to my fellow cinema goers' sense of mirth.
AND how come Hercules has a nephew if he was an orphan street urchin? That doesn't make any sense! Not that Hercules is about the watertight plot lines, but that has been bothering me.
In the end it's not a case of having too much muscle that hurts Hercules, it's the half-arsed attempts at giving it a brain. I hope Dwayne Johnson retires after this one. Bring back The Rock!
TUL Note: Hailing from the 'Paris of the South,' Bundaberg, Dan Colasimone is back in Brisbane after spending the better part of a decade living overseas. He also writes about sport. He once completed an Arts degree. Twitter: @ArgentinaFW
Image credit: TimeZone