It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In Greek mythology, Heracles was the product of Zeus getting his Mt. Olympus freak on with a mortal woman. Heracles was named to honor his philandering daddy’s angry wife, Hera, but her vengeance had dire consequences for the future hero. Hera drove him insane, at which point Heracles murdered his wife and children. After regaining his sanity and realizing the horrible nature of his crime, Heracles accepts as penance the famous labors most of us know about from high school English class. These included defeating the Nemean Lion, the hydra and the Erymanthian boar.
This was the legend I expected from Brett Ratner’s “Hercules.” Instead, I and the 12 other people who showed up for last night’s screening were treated to yet another comic book adaptation by studios desperate to hang on to its stereotypical core market of men in states of arrested development. I know nothing about the Radical Comics series upon which this is based, but I sincerely hope it is not the half-assed, warmed over “300” rip-off its cinematic counterpart is. Watching “Hercules,” you can feel your intelligence being insulted in almost every frame.
Shorn of the graphic violence and blatant homoeroticism that made “300” gore-soaked camp, the PG-13 rated “Hercules” is left with poorly rendered CGI battles and a fear of any semblance of darkness. There’s also the potentially interesting idea of how one man’s legend can shape the minds and actions of many, but “Hercules” is afraid of that too. For all its violence, “Hercules” coddles you, protecting you from any kind of complex or sad emotion the material might inspire. It’s so afraid of upsetting you that it can’t even give its most interesting character the noble death it so beautifully sets up for him. Even the character is pissed off about this.
Ratner dispatches with the labors in the pre-credits sequence of the film, turning them into a story told by Hercules’ nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). Iolaus is being held hostage by a band of pirates who suspend him over a long, jagged spear of rock aimed at his nether regions. “Hercules” posits that the legends of its titular hero have the power of scaring men into submission, but these pirates temporarily prove the exception. “That’s bulls—t,” one of the pirates exclaims after hearing of the Nemean lion.