Brawn over brains.
What’s a demigod to do? Due to emotional trauma (that is slowly revealed within this thin plotline) Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) has hit hard times. Resorting to seeking employment as a mercenary, the muscle bound legend has gathered a team of ragtag warriors to work with him. When King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) hears the son of Zeus is available for hire he makes an offer that strikes straight at his Achilles heel. Before long the mighty Hercules finds himself leading the king’s timid and untrained army in a fight against some nasty faction that is headed their way.
Let’s start with the good stuff. Hercules moves at a rapid pace in a day when many moviemakers working in the epic hero genre feel a need to keep audiences in their seats just to prove how important they think they are. Thank you. My popcorn was barely finished. Better yet, they inject a good dose of humor, even while Dwayne Johnson does his best to play his demigod role in a Charlton Heston “Moses mode.” This guy’s not pulled off his pedestal by some sultry woman. Instead he’s focused on training the king’s legions with motivational speeches that could make a diehard pacifist want to punch his teddy bear. Finally, by subtly offering reasonable suggestions for Hercules’ power, the script plays with the half-god, half-man premise in an interesting way, leaving us questioning his supposed divine origins.
So what’s not to like? Well, we expect a “swords and sandals” flick like this to come with a great deal of violence—and this one delivers. During one of the near-nonstop battle scenes, our Hero jumps on the back of a chariot and extends a couple of blades so he can mow down soldiers like a human weed-whacker. Other altercations take lives with virtually every pre-firearm weapon imaginable, including arrows, swords, knives, clubs and whips. And although the film holds back on spattering blood effects, we often see stacks of corpses on the ground, many soaked in blood.
In the ten or fifteen minutes of this film when people have time to chat, you can also expect a few profanities and sexual innuendos. Thankfully they are infrequent, but even in this ancient Greek realm you will hear some relatively contemporary scatological curses and a sexual expletive. A couple of these conversations take place with drinks in hand and there is evidence of some characters having had a few too many. And in one case it is suggested the cause of inebriation may be from taking “herbs.” Finally, a very brief view of a naked woman from the rear and some low-cut dresses literally flesh out the otherwise limited sexual content.
Hercules does deserve a pat on his impenetrable leather armor for making good moral and ethical choices that require sacrifice. But, like so many films that want to suggest violence only leads to more violence and unhappiness, this movie tries to make that point by appealing to those who find entertainment and happiness from violent depictions in movies.