It is only in hindsight that we can understand what a disservice was done to the mighty myths of ancient Greece and Rome by 1960s B-grade sword-and-sandal, low-budget epics.
We scoffed at them, not thinking for a minute of the stories’ significance to those who hung on the words of Homer and the oral poets that helped create a cultural identity.
This is by no shakes a great movie, but it is hugely enjoyable for the respect with which it treats its subject.
Hercules (or Herakles as he was known to the Greeks), son of Zeus, was around for centuries before director Brett Ratner puts him on stage.
It is the third century BC and Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), an unashamed mercenary, has been hired by the King of Thrace to defeat a warlord who is laying waste to the land.
With his gang, including Ian McShane hamming it up delightfully as a neurotic soothsayer, and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, an archer in a tiny leather skirt with matching midriff top, Hercules whips the Thracian citizenry into shape so as to take on the villains. It’s Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven all over again, only with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour and a deluge of state-of-the-art CGI.
There are enough twists in the tale to keep you interested, including that which concerns the fate of Hercules’s family back in pre-Raphaelite Athens. Costumes and makeup are fab and the battle scenes, especially the one with the scary purple blokes, are terrifically violent but mostly bloodless (as in the B-grade days).
As the demi-god, Johnson owns the movie, giving a typically casual performance of enormous but charming vanity and suggesting that, if only somebody would trust him with a serious role, he’d prove himself to be a better-than-average actor – a pity all of those muscles get in the way.
It’s a rumble, admittedly, but if you like your morality to be black and white, and you get off on chariots and cuirasses, go see it, it’s a beauty.
~ John Campbell