September Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

Across time, societies have engaged in the art of storytelling and myth-making — the part-idealisation and part-exaggeration of real-life events and personalities, that contain moral lessons. Though not quite truths, they are indispensable in the creation of every religion, in the process of nation-building and the strengthening of ideologies. Legends remain alive in a space between myth and reality.

One such legend is that of Hercules. From cartoons to television series, the ancient Greek demigod holds as much interest in contemporary times as in the classical. Brett Ratner’s latest film, an adaptation of Steve Moore’s graphic novel series, is yet another example of popular culture’s fascination with the son of Zeus. Starring an impossibly buff Dwayne Johnson in the lead role, Hercules is an action-packed 3D ride, replete with ancient myths and modern humour.

Part-truth, part-fiction; part-hero, part-mercenary; part-god, part-man, Hercules lives in a world of in-betweens. Having slain the Nemean Lion, the nine-headed hydra and other monsters, he has earned the title of “the protector of Athens.” But he is haunted by the murder of his wife (Irina Shayk) and children, and suspects that it was his own doing, in a spree of insanity.

Aiding him are his six companions, each possessing their own strength and characteristics: the sooth-sayer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) whose prophecies (as they say about prayer) work at the same rate as chance, the Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal),  the wise-cracking Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the ‘untamed’ but loyal Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and master storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie).

Their reputation as fierce warriors is known, and a people in search of heroes will buy into any myth. They are approached by princess Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) on behalf of her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace, to protect their kingdom from the tyrant Rhesus (Tobias Sanatelmann).

The ancient Greeks may have been fatalists, but Hercules is about taking destiny into one’s own hands — although having the right genes and connections probably do help — and the conflict between appearance and reality. “Who we are is of no significance,” Amphiaraus tells Hercules. “How others perceive us is important.”

If you’ve happened to glance over other reviews, you would have noticed that they fall into two categories: ‘Hercules is expectedly terrible’ or ‘Hercules is surprisingly good.’ My verdict falls into the latter camp. Ratner does a good job of breathing new life to an old tale. Johnson, as always, is immensely likable and certainly has the physique to pull off the role. The rest of the cast is impressive too. However, despite the trailer and her large photograph in the posters, some will be disappointed to know that Irina Shayk’s presence in the film is minimal — cut even shorter by the Pakistan Censor Board.

Nevertheless, Hercules is 98 minutes of good fun — more intelligent than 300 and more entertaining than snooze-fests such as Alexander. Ignore the cynics and give it a watch.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s September 2014 issue under the headline, “Of Gods and Men.”

The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.