Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Cinema File #376: "Hercules" Review

One of the most pivotal scenes in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is when the starship Enterprise self-destructs. So powerful was this moment that the marketing department decided to show the whole thing in the trailer, over director Leonard Nimoy’s strenuous objections. This happens a lot, where elements of a film meant to be shocking or surprising are outright spoiled in the advertising, so much so that you have to hand it to them when they can keep their mouths shut. The new film Hercules has a twist that is central to its premise that you would never guess from the commercials, and that I must regrettably spoil to review the film. Unfortunately, this is the only thing the movie has going for it.

Okay, well that’s not entirely true. There is one other thing, and that’s Dwayne the motherfucking Rock Johnson, who I’m fairly sure actually is the immortal Greek demi-god of the title, masquerading as an actor playing himself. The fact that this country is still so racist that this walking ball of charm isn’t playing Superman, and I don’t just mean in Superman movies but literally every movie regardless of whether it makes sense to have Superman in it, should be held up as a point of national shame. The guy is awesome is what I’m saying. Perhaps too awesome as it turns out, as in the context of this retelling of the Hercules legend, he’s not actually supposed to be.

That’s the twist by the way. Hercules is not in fact the immortal and indestructible son of a god, but rather the mortal but still extremely kickass leader of a band of mercenaries, spreading the myth of Hercules as a supernatural force in the ancient equivalent of a PR campaign. Its a brilliant angle, reminiscent of the original script for Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, which cast the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero, retelling a story we’ve seen hundreds of times before in a new and different way that justifies one more go. Still, its a hard needle to thread, potentially losing a lot of what makes the traditional Hercules story interesting, so only a director of the highest caliber should attempt it. Let me just check my notes to see who made this…

Oh fuck.

That’s right, this is a Brett Ratner joint. If you’re only vaguely familiar with the name, perhaps you heard it in the wailing cries of a million X-Men fans over the travesty that was The Last Stand. Or maybe you just have “Fratboy Dickbag” as a Google alert (for what I will assume are completely legitimate reasons). Ratner is the director that everybody thinks Michael Bay is. He’s Uwe Boll with a bigger budget, and one might guess from his public displays of bravado, a much smaller penis. He is the last person you would want directing any movie, let alone one with as ingenious a premise as this one, and he does not disappoint in being thoroughly disappointing, turning what could have been and by all rights should have been one of the best movies of the year into forgettable garbage you’ll soon be ignoring in your Netflix queue.

Its not entirely his fault of course, or rather, while his inept direction is comprehensibly terrible, even a good director would have needed a better script to make this idea work. One would think that the main conflict of this movie would be similar to a con film, just in an action movie veneer, with the characters constantly under threat of having their secret revealed. Instead, the movie basically forgets the con altogether, as the crew fully admit to the fraud as soon as they’re hired. How about forcing them to test their supernatural claims? Maybe instead of just facing off against a nameless boring enemy army, they encounter a rival playing their own game, but better. Nothing so interesting. Its one of those movies that starts out so novel that you assume it will be more clever than it ultimately is, so that its predictable plot turns are only cloaked by your initially inflated expectations.

Hercules is a film that does not deserve the few good things that set it apart from the cliched rut it tries so doggedly to dig for itself. It takes a golden opportunity to do something different and dare I say wholly original and squanders it on barely passable action sequences strung together by the flimsiest of connective tissue featuring backstory and incidental character beats you’re given no reason to care about. The characters themselves are often engaging only because the cast is so much better than the movie, but when they shine, it only serves to remind you of the much better movie this could have been. It wouldn’t have been that hard for even a marginally talented action director and maybe one or two more drafts of the script. But instead we got Brett Ratner and the writer of the The Lion King 1 and ½. In a year with so many great high concept action movies, such a failure snatched from the jaws of greatness seems particularly egregious.

Not mention, it actually manages to make The Rock look bad, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. Doom couldn’t even do that shit.

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