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The Rock as Hercules: Still Hokey, But Fun & With Some History Tossed In

The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) As Hercules - complete with massive sword and lion's skin
The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) As Hercules - complete with massive sword and lion's skin
Courtesy Paramount Pictures/MGM

Hercules (film)


It takes big…muscles…to take on the iconic role of Hercules, and Dwayne Johnson (or The Rock) has them – and more. The latest in a long, long line of films about the epic son of Zeus has all the lions and loincloth that fans of the genre expect and demand, and while as hokey in parts as any of its spaghetti sword and sandal predecessors from the golden age of Italian filmmaking, the latest Hercules is a little bit more: it actually adds in a little history.

That history is not entirely or even mostly correct, but there is something here besides the usual myths and monsters. While one of his companions (Ioalas, played by Reece Ritchie) repeatedly regales the audience (both on screen and off) with tales of seven-headed hydras, giant lions with impenetrable hides and the like, this Hercules does not have any godlike powers. He bleeds; he cries; he gets drunk – and he’s a mercenary, not some half-naked idealist wandering about saving the downtrodden, righting wrongs or battling the gods. Even the monsters are mortal – like the above-mentioned hydra which turns out to be seven guys wearing snake helmets.

This Hercules is a war movie. The Rock and his fighting companions (played by Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Aksel Hennie, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as a gorgeous but no-nonsense Amazon archer) are hired to train a rag-tag bunch of farmers into an army to battle a ruthless barbarian warlord. The enemy’s feared centaurs turn out to be just normal cavalry (albeit with stirrups, long such were available, at least in the 358 BC period in which the movie claims to be set), and his demons are just a bunch of mostly naked tribesmen who paint themselves green. There are some good, solid, training scenes that are de rigueur in any war movie of any era, and a couple of great big battles – one of which shows chariots used the way they were used historically: as mobile firing platforms for archers. While a phalanx would have been more accurate, the shield wall tactic Hercules and his pals train the men to use is a combination of military maneuvers of other eras (the Assyrian tower shields, the Roman Testudo of interlocking shields or the Viking formation of overlapping shields), yet it is impressive and smartly done.

Hercules, of course, has to be more than just a war movie. Bits of the legend have to creep in – and are explained in a matter-of-fact, worldly manner, which debunks the mythology and makes the story both more pedestrian – but also more human. A Hercules made mad by the gods who then murders his own family is a tragedy, but a Hercules drugged by an ambitious and jealous king who then sets the hounds on the he-man’s wife and kids in order to make the public think their hero is a homicidal maniac is not only more believable – but also makes for a more sympathetic character. (Joseph Fiennes plays said king, although the Athens of which he is supposed to rule did not have monarchs in that period).

There is a lot to like in Hercules. From John Hurt as a Macedonian lord who hires Hercules to train his army to Rebecca Ferguson as his daughter – who instead of being the typical love interest winds up being something much more. This is not last year’s dreadfully serious The Legend of Hercules, nor is it the campy Kevin Sorbo TV series from the 1990s. It is The Rock doing one of the two things he does best: playing a muscular, stand-up guy who despite his flaws is really a hero. Dwayne Johnson’s other talent is making fun of himself (as he did in The Tooth Fairy), which he does a little here – but this is mostly The Rock going back to his roots, which makes for a nice afternoon at the movies in a very hot summer.

Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from history and teh age of mythology. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
…or his blog at
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at

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