Imagine a house that has been abandoned during wartime, perhaps food had been scattered and strewn about, left to rot. Maggots eventually took over, and there was puss and slime and mold and a suppurating, diseased, fetid general air; a landscape where once had been a decent living quarters, now was only termite fodder and rotting dreck. Hercules is the cinematic equivalent of the picture you now have in your mind.
There are so many starting points from which to being skewering this movie, it makes it seem almost as though the filmmakers created something purely for the sake of watching it get lambasted as the meaningless pile of garbage that it is.
We begin with its star: the titular character, the legendary half god/half man, Hercules (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who no doubt is one literally created for the purpose of having stories told about him, and who on the one hand needs no reasoning or explanation as to why yet another retelling of his story, (or at least a part of it), is again presented to the general public. Since the ancient days out of which his legends grew, tales of the son of Zeus have fascinated people century after century. Yet, here, in this Brett Ratner directed monstrosity, one cannot help but come to wonder about its most heinous fault—why on earth does this movie exist? There is absolutely no point. Nothing new or interesting or unexpected is told or revealed. The point of re-telling stories is to relive the excitement of their contents, maybe share things about the characters and happenings with new ears who have no previous knowledge of them, or simply to shed some further insight upon a character from mythology who led such a fascinating existence (at least in the minds of believers). This film does none of that. It's a slow, slothful drag from one clichéd scene to the next. If it walks like an epic, talks like an epic...oh, forget it.
That is probably the greatest reason this movie is so offensive. It thinks that if it shows all the pieces of epic cinematic storytelling (never mind the need to logically build each one of them upon the other), then that is all it takes to tell such a story.
[Please note: not all of the following are in fact elements of epics]:
- We need a scene where the hero kills a bunch of people in one fell swoop: check. We need a scene where the army is shown as being not so great and then in the next moment totally awesome, because, ya know, they train under his leadership: check. (Literally, that one happened within the span of maybe less than a minute; Ratner could have taken a lesson from Mulan's "I'll Make a Man Out of You" musical sequence on how to show a better army training montage).
- We need a scene where the hero is shown to be tender when thinking of his dead family, because, ya know, he's not just brawny, sinewy, steroidal flesh...he's sensy like that: check.
- We need a scene where the weird-looking guy who has been a loyal servant to the hero dies, because it'll drive the hero to his fullest potential and help his sinewy body lift big boulders and statues and stuff: check. [Sidebar: make sure the weird-looking guy is super, duper weird-looking, to the point where, despite his being mute the whole movie, the audience may expect him to utter a phrase on his deathbed like: "Oooga booga!" because, ya know, funny-looking people are weird!]: check.
- We need a scene where there's an archer girl warrior kicking ass and taking names, because this is the 21st century, man! Go Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, who's the spitting image of Nicole Kidman, minus the latter's acting talent)! Girl power!: check.
- We need several scenes in which we make sure to heavily joke about her being powerful, because strong women are threatening to our male-dominated society and must be undercut them so they don't think too highly of themselves: check.
- We also need several scenes where the camera pans up from afar then up close on our hero's visage, where he looks longingly either into the camera or into the distance and says something witty or fierce like, "Ahhhhh!" or "I AM HERCULES!": check.
- We need several shots of him wearing a ridiculous lionhead atop his own, lest anyone forget he defeated a lion: check.
- We need a scene where some guy is being held over a stake, threatened with his life if he doesn't give in to, well, we don't even know what (finding Hercules's whereabouts? ceasing singing Hercules's praises? it's unclear why he's being threatened), but the real key to this scene is that we place the stake directly under his bum and make a homophobic joke (which falls especially heavy on the ears, considering Ratner's real life homophobic history) about what would happen if they were to drop him on it, how all the ladies would have one less lecher to worry about chasing them (because if someone had a stake shoved into their rear they suddenly would change sexual orientations? The logic here is entirely absent...oh well!): check!
- And of course, no hero story is complete without a plot point where there is a woman's son and heir to the throne is threatened by the evil grandfather king who wants to kill his daughter (said woman) and raise the son to be evil just like him, not strong and good like our muscular hero: check.
If any of that started to sound jumbled or discombobulated, know that watching it in the theatre and trying to make sense of it all was just as difficult, if not more. It's as if there were no screenwriters (sorry, not sorry Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos, and Steve Moore). There is absolutely NO flow to this movie. It is just a series of scenes that were edited together into one string of filmed moments. It can hardly even be called a story; there was no semblance of any real narrative being told. Sure, Hercules is a mercenary fighter who eventually grows a conscience and decides to fight for a different side or something, but every moment of the movie one is left simply internally shouting: WHO CARES?! It is hard to recall a time where less investment was given to something.
Unfortunately, that's not in actual fact true, regarding what Paramount, MGM, Flynn Picture Company, and Radical Studios invested, though in watching the movie it's a complete mystery as to where their $100 million budget was spent. Everything looks and feels cheap. The costumes look like plastic and Lycra Halloween costumes. The sets are not too poorly assembled, but it's often apparent where the real thing ends and the digital/CGI branch of the location begins. And if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had trained in acting school from now until the day he died, he would never achieve one iota of actual talent.
How is this man a famous and successful movie actor? It really is some sort of trick of the trade, because there is nothing he does that reflects any sort of subtlety or adroit understanding of the craft. That is not to insult him as a man; he seems like the kind of guy with whom one would love to be friends, the kind of person you wish were your neighbor—caring, sensitive, strong, thoughtful. But lordy, he cannot act. In practically all his roles, even here in this swords and swashbuckling tale, he always has this tendency to err on the side of laughter, (and not because he's a natural comedian), so at any moment there is an expectation that he may just suddenly look into the camera and start laughing. He makes it appear as though the entire movie (at least every scene he is in, which is nearly all of them) is a blooper reel.
The only moment of heft in the film comes when a real, seasoned actor, Joseph Fiennes, who plays King Eurystheus, breaks down near the end in a rage at Hercules. During this scene there is a brief glimpse at what the movie could have been, if nearly everything else about it were different (including the incredibly bizarre hair choice they went with for Fiennes's Eurystheus, which made him look like a deeply unattractive woman, except when he screamed in terrible fury, and the talent so desperately needed in this festering turd of a film shown through his hideous hair and makeup job). Additionally, it must be added, that Ian McShane, who plays the narrator and also one of Hercules's closest friends/fighting buddies, Amphiaraus, brings a certain humor (of the real, intentional variety), which makes certain moments of this tormentingly awful film bearable.
This is the worst movie of 2014 thus far, absolutely no question. Due to the rating system of this website, at least one star must be selected, but trust this: it's a zero out of five.