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Hercules
Genre Action
 
Review:

Hercules has been doing the rounds this year with three films including: Hercules Reborn, The Legend of Hercules and now Hercules starring the top-grossing actor of 2013, Dwayne Johnson. Of the three, Hercules, is head and shoulders above the rest and we're not just talking about Johnson's physique. Although to be fair, it wasn't going to be a task based on the quality of the other two.

The film's enjoyment depends largely on your expectations going in. This isn't an attempt at recreating an epic like Braveheart, but more to the tune of Conan with A Knight's Tale sensibility. That being said, Hercules is heavy on the action with a side order of comedy, and doesn't really try to delve deeper than its pulpy graphic novel origins.

We enter the story after the legendary twelve labours, and journey with a band of sidekicks under the banner of Hercules. Now that he's established himself as a legend, he turns his attentions to aiding the King of Thrace and his daughter by turning his cohort into a band of mercenaries for hire in a bid to seek-and-destroy a pillaging warlord.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Hercules. Besides being The Scorpion King, he's next generation Schwarzenegger, and if you've been able to appreciate Arnie's unmistakable accent, disarming charm and demi-god form in films like Conan, you're halfway there. Johnson usually relies on his charisma, but he's a humble hero as Hercules... playing it down like Mark Wahlberg. The eight month gym regime clearly paid off and he retains his star presence without deferring to The Rock persona.

While it's an epic action-adventure based on the Thracian Wars graphic novel, it also serves as a comedy. What else would you expect from a film starring The Rock and directed by Rush Hour's Brett Ratner? It's not a complete send up, but falls in line with films like A Knight's Tale. You actually find yourself wondering if adding a couple of killer rock anthems to the soundtrack wouldn't have done the trick.

The tone is a little problematic. We've got seriously epic sword-and-sandal Greek mythology playing out with Braveheart speeches, 300 style warfare and a band of merry mercenaries under the mighty Hercules. Then, to complicate things... they've thrown in some amusing banter and tongue-in-cheek comedy you'd expect from The A-Team. It's fun and works if you're able to roll with it, but does create a slightly off-balance quest.

Luckily, we're able to fall back on the solid cast. Rufus Sewell echoes A Knight's Tale as the smirking second-in-command. He and Ian McShane are the pick of the heroes, delivering the funniest lines and also sharing a strange history thanks to their involvement in Pillars of the Earth. McShane is a welcome addition and pretty damn funny as a fatalistic part-time psychic. John Hurt, Peter Mullan and Joseph Fiennes add some finesse to Hercules as respected actors and high-ranking officials.

Then, there's some viking fighting spirit from Norway in Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Aksel Hennie. Berdal is striking like a young Nicole Kidman, playing Atalanta in a similar role to Evangeline Lilly's archer character Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Hennie doesn't have much to say, but makes the unhinged and explosive Tydeus a cantankerous joy. Reece Ritchie rounds off a strong cast as Iolaus, the team's herald.

This take on Hercules is similar to Kenneth Branagh's handling of Thor. There's a sincerity to the pompous retelling of mythology, yet it's tempered by the wink-wink tone and spurts of comic book comedy. As with many self-made superheroes these days, the writers have taken the opportunity to debunk the mythology to represent a mortal backed by an exceptionally loyal marketing entourage. It takes away from the magic, but keeps the story as grounded as a Biblical story like Samson with a little extra grit.

Hercules is all about the fun. There's loads of exciting action, suspenseful moments and violence to satisfy action junkies. The warring isn't as well-executed or epic as 300, Braveheart or Gladiator, but tips the hat to these greats with a similar intensity and gore factor to King Arthur. Then, it leverages the A Knight's Tale tone without going as far as the We Will Rock You anthem from Queen. It's not demanding viewing, but tips the balance in its favour for being such well-paced and entertaining escapism.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

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