We're still waiting for someone to measure up to and surpass Steve Reeves!
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Brett Ratner; Screenplay by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and Steve Moore. Produced by Sarah Aubrey, Beau Flynn, Barry Levine, and Brett Ratner. Executive produced by Peter Berg, Jesse Berger, Ross Fanger, Hiram Garcia, and Stephen Jones.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (as a mercenary, Hercules), Ian McShane (as fellow mercenary and fortuneteller, Amphiaraus), John Hurt (as the deceitful King, Lord Cotys); Rufus Sewell (as fellow mercenary and Hercules' best friend, Autolycus), Aksel Hennie (as fellow mercenary and mute, Tydeus), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (as fellow mercenary, Amazon warrior, Atalanta); Reece Ritchie (as fellow mercenary, storyteller, and Hercules' nephew, Iolaus), Joseph Fiennes (as the evil King Eurystheus), Tobia Santelmann (as the unknown good guy, Rhesus), Peter Mullan (as Lord Cotys' enforcer, General Sitacles), Rebecca Ferguson (as the demure Princess Ergenia).
"Reeves’ matinee-idol looks and physique qualities led him into the movies; audiences were able to enjoy Reeves in the Italian-produced series of Hercules films made in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. In those roles, he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his era, the most visible and best-known bodybuilder in the world; in fact, Reeves’ Hercules films served as an inspiration to the young Arnold."
Okay, let's be fair and give this latest "Hercules" featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson the opportunity to stand on its own. After all, why should we judge "it" against previous film and television versions starring Kellan Lutz, Arnold Schwarzenegger (not really), Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Sorbo, Reg Park, and of course, Steve Reeves among others? Answer: Because we can and should. Unless someone has truly improved on the original, why waste your time and money with a substandard clone or upgrade? Well? Well?
If you're hoping this film would at least be more than a B-film, alas, you're out of luck. The trailer for this film is better than the entire movie. Did anyone actually watch this entire film before they put it in the can for distribution?
Steve Reeves (January 21, 1926 – May 1, 2000) was an American bodybuilder and actor. At the peak of his career, he was the highest-paid actor in Europe. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Reeves
In summary, the trailer capsulized the meat-and-potatoes of the film, those legendary twelve labors and other feats of amazement performed by Hercules. Yes, Hercules does some really nifty acts of strength and derring-do albeit with special effects and computer graphics, and that's okay - but absolutely none of the feats performed by Hercules in this film were particularly original, and that's a mistake. In this regard, the scriptwriters and producers should have looked to Marvel Comics, that's right, Marvel. Marvel is in the business of creating characters, and equally important, existence in the Marvel Universe requires characters to have very defined and validated skills, knowledge and proficiencies. Yes, it's all make-believe, but for us to suspend our doubts and actually believe in each character - every aspect (scientific, mystical, emotional, political, etc.) of every relationship must be anchored with consistent context or the Marvel Universe will appear vague and unrealistic. For example, how strong is Hercules?? He's the son of the supreme Greek God, Zeus; so is he as strong or stronger than Thor, the son of Odin, King of the Norse Gods?
Weight 325 lbs.
Hercules' principal power is his vast physical strength and is physically the strongest of all existing Olympians. As the Olympian God of Strength, Hercules possesses enormous superhuman strength. Hercules' great strength also extends to his powerful leg muscles, allowing him to jump great distances and heights; while the exact limit is unknown, he is capable of leaping a height of at least 100 feet. He has been observed lifting and hurling a giant Sequoia tree, carrying a starship across his back and shoulders, and lifting and tossing Godzilla, dragging the island of Manhattan, knocking out a Titan, he even was capable of holding and supporting the heavens themselves. His strength combined with his expert combat skills has enabled him to hold his own against Thor, the Hulk, and the Sentry. Hercules is also an Olympian thereby being an immortal, and as true immortals, the Olympian gods do not age and are not susceptible to disease. Although they can be wounded in battle, they cannot die by any conventional means, and have a rapid healing rate. Hercules has a greater resistance to physical injury than any other Olympian god except for Zeus, and possibly Neptune and Pluto. Hercules is virtually tireless. His supernaturally enhanced musculature produces no fatigue poisons. He can even survive unprotected in the vacuum of space for a brief period of time. Only an injury of such magnitude that it incinerated him or dispersed a major portion of his bodily molecules could kill Hercules. In at least some such cases, Zeus or one of the other gods might still be able to resurrect him.
Weight 640 lbs.
Besides his enormous physical strength, and being durable enough to survive a blast from Celestials, Thor also has energy manipulation powers that are on par with the Silver Surfer. He is also armed with Mjolnir, the mystical warhammer that has been shown to be capable of opening passageways through space and time, blocking all sorts of energy blasts, and bending the elements to its master’s will. Thor has been shown to be able to swing Mjolnir at twice the speed of light. Thor is an Asgardian warrior god, trained and skilled in the arts of battle, and he’s been doing it for ages. While Thor has usually been shown to rely solely on his fighting ability, super strength, and nigh invulnerability, he has many other options available to him if a fight starts going badly. He has complete mastery over the weather, he can open chasms in the Earth, and if worst comes to worst, use the dreaded God-blast, an attack that is so powerful that one time Mjolnir shattered from the amount of power Thor channeled. This god-blast has even caused a tiny crack in the armor of the Celestial Exitar; the force of which created a shock wave which rocked the planet Pangoria to its foundations. While on Earth, Thor once claimed to withhold his power unless fighting someone with similar strength and durability. When facing both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four the Hulk has even stated that Thor with Mjolnir is the only one among them that he considers a threat. It is a common misconception that Thor and the other Gods of Asgard are truly immortal. Thor and the other members of his race do age but at a rate so slow that to other beings they give the appearance of immortality. Thor has been stated to be thousands of years old which makes his life span incomparable to that of the human beings which he protects. When the Asgardians consume the Golden Apples that are cultivated by the goddess Idunn, they are able to maintain themselves in their physical prime.
Hercules © Marvel Comics Thor © Marvel Comics
Unfortunately, instead of learning from the Marvel Universe and giving this film some necessary and original depth, the film failed to establish an actual personality for the character of Hercules. The only "character" we get is a brooding Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wearing a wig and looking muscle-bound. If you've followed Johnson's work in the WWE and as an actor, he's not a one-dimensional performer, but that's all we get from him in this film. In addition to his physical attributes, Steve Reeves had charisma, he was a handsome man, had a great voice, and a demeanor that was consistently camera-friendly. However, Reeves never had the opportunity to work in as many diverse films and subject matter as Dwayne Johnson, which gives Johnson (who also has charisma!) an acting advantage over Reeves. Unfortunately, the script did not provide Johnson with an opportunity to do anything other than flex his muscles and raise the people's eyebrow. This time out, Hercules leads a band a mercenaries who are only interested in the spoils of war, and they agree to help a desperate king, Lord Cotys (John Hurt), against the conquering Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), an alleged usurper to his throne. After Hercules and his comrades win the battle royal, Hercules discovers the real enemy is Lord Cotys, and then, of course, Hercules leads an assault for retribution against Lord Coyts.
Although the trailer speaks of Hercules being the son of Zeus, the actual feature film primarily conveyed why Hercules himself and others did not perceive him to be the son of Zeus, but saw him only as an ordinary human with more muscles than most men. Unlike "Jason and the Argonauts" 1963, and "Clash of the Titans" 1981 and similar films, there was absolutely no godly intervention from Zeus (except for the adultery), or from his wife Hera, or from any other gods in this film. By the way, for the sake of continuity, how and where exactly did Hercules acquire the truck loads of "special battle armor" for Lord Coyts' army?
There are many capable actors in this film. In particular, it's a shame that Joseph Fiennes really didn't get much to do. Ultimately, these "Herculean" films provide nothing more than an opportunity for some muscle-bound men to flare their testosterone while grunting, facing several epic pseudo-battles, and saving a damsel in distress. Given the simplicity of these action-based films, the scripts don't really call for much dialogue. In fact, if Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" had more than ten pages of actual dialogue we should all win the lottery! The "heavy lifting" for performing the oral narrative of this film belongs to actors Ian McShane as Amphiaraus and Reece Ritchie as Iolaus, who orchestrate the entire film with voice overs about Hercules' legendary twelve labors and other feats of amazement. This is particularly disappointing because (again) Dwayne Johnson has grown to become a very competent actor ("The Game Plan" 2007, "Faster" 2010, and "Fast and Furious 6," and "Snitch," and "Pain and Gain," from 2013), and he can handle the dialogue and the related emotional context. Johnson didn't have much "acting" work to do in "Hercules," and the film suffered because the lead character's presence was nothing more than perfunctory - because he had to be there. Dah.
Steve Reeves is to "muscleman" films as Bruce Lee is to "martial arts" films - the "iconic" standard by which all others are judged. Let's hope a sequel does not sprout from this mediocre film, because as clearly represented by the images below, we've seen it all before - same muscles, same "Herculean stunts," different actor/different beefcake.
1958 1970 1983 1995 to 1999 2014 2014
Except for several birds-eye view establishing shots that give the film an appearance of spectacle, film is otherwise directed by-the-numbers by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 2, X-Men: The Last Stand, Beverly Hills Cop IV). Thankfully, as sharply edited by Mark Helfrich and Julia Wong, instead of adding yet another battle sequence, this film is briskly paced at 98 minutes, which makes it perfect for being slotted to run with twenty-(20) minutes of commercials in a two-(2) hour broadcast time slot. Look for it on Fox, Spike-TV or similar 18-49 male demographic cable and/or internet venues in the very near future!!!
As expected, special effects and technical aspects were all solid, especially the make-up on Aksel Hennie as Tydeus. By the way, do we really need two feature films released about "Hercules" in the same year? Nope.
Recommendation: Wait for it . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . at the $5.00 bin at Walmart.