The Scorpion King Pwns Greece (aka, a review of Hercules)

Raaaawr!
I still haven’t forgiven Brett Ratner for X-Men: the Last Stand, so I would like to state, for the record, that I went to see this solely for Dwayne Johnson because he’s awesome and I’ve been a fan ever since he was that badly CGI’d scorpion-man thing in The Mummy Returns. I also hear rumors that he was a wrestler or something before that.
I do know that he PLAYED a wrestler on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Does that count?
Also, and this is just because I have to let my inner nit-picker out every now and then or it gets cranky, Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Herakles. His name was intended to be an apology to Hera who despised him (which this movie does acknowledge). The name Herakles (or Heracles as it is also spelled) means literally Glory to Hera. The name Hercules is Latin and not Greek. Hercules is to Jupiter and Juno as Herakles is to Zeus and Hera. Ok, now that we’ve cleared that up, we’re moving on to the actual review (my first for this blog! Whoo!)
I like to rate things twice because there are movies that are awesome, but not as much fun to watch, and then there are movies that are SO much fun to watch, but are awful. A movie that is an utter masterpiece, but which is a bit difficult to watch would be 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the most technically incredible movies ever made. And it also can make you feel incredibly unsettled and disturbed (which it was supposed to). An example of a terribly done movie that is amazing to watch would be Sharknado, for obvious reasons.
Good movie rating: 6/10
Fun movie rating: 8/10

This movie was a lot better than I was expecting, actually. I was expecting The Scorpion King in Greece, and it kind of was that, but it managed to find a layer of Hercules’ character that hasn’t been explored much before. One of the more disturbing elements of the original Hercules myth is how he flies into a rage and kills his first wife Megara and his children (right? It’s awful!). This movie addresses that, which was a bold move.
But the movie is not depressing. On the contrary, it’s a lot of fun. And funny. It tells the story of Hercules’ career after his twelve labors when he is hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to take out a warlord who is attacking nearby villages. Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is a good guy who isn’t too serious and who strikes me as a more grown-up, less naïve version of Kevin Sorbo’s hunky-but-goofy 90’s take on the character.  Even when everything around him is super goofy and ridiculous, he manages to be the “rock” (I’m sorry, I had to) that keeps things from spiraling into self-parody.
Few people could manage to look that serious in that hat
I think it was a good decision on the filmmaker’s part to focus on Hercules as a guy and not as a demigod. There’s a lot of speculation throughout the film as to whether or not Hercules is actually the son of Zeus, and there are many moments that undercut the more fanciful elements of Greek mythology. You’re not really sure what is real and what is just a story until you see it in the light of day (centaurs, the hydra, the Nemean lion, etc.). By the end of it, you still aren’t sure what the truth is, but it makes you like the character even more. He could be a demigod, in which case, he’s very humble and not out to win anything from the people he serves. But if he isn’t, you’ve got to give him props for his boldness and the seemingly impossible things he does. Now, to be honest, most of his scenes are just of him smashing people with clubs and standing there looking muscular, but at least an attempt was made to give him a teeny bit of depth.
The supporting characters are so amazing, they get their own paragraph. I’m a HUGE fan of Rufus Sewell anyways, but he almost always plays the serious bad guy.
Exhibit: Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale
 But in this one, he gets to be goofy! And funny! And sort of steals all the best one-liners. Quite possibly my favorite character in the movie. I also quite liked Ian McShane’s character, who’s sort of the “seer” of the group. He has this long-running obsession (no spoilers) throughout the movie that leads to a couple amusing moments. Then there’s the silent-crazy-barbarian guy who says absolutely everything with his eyes. He’s a berserker, but he’s also like the loyal family dog. You grow to really love him. The last two are a bit bland. There’s the standard awesome-Amazon-heroine-to-keep-this-from-being-a-complete-sausagefest-and-because-feminism character. She’s cool, but she’s basically Legolas in drag. The other guy is Hercules’ nephew, Iolaus, who really wants to fight, but can’t because he’s too young. Yawn. It’s sort of been done to death, so I wasn’t that crazy about the character.
A special mention goes to John Hurt for being amazing. I mean, at this point, it’s sort of a given because I don’t think John Hurt can be anything BUT amazing, but it was pretty awesome to see the War Doctor and the Scorpion King meeting up. I wish we got more John Hurt, but that might just be me being greedy.
So, here’s a picture of him being awesome, instead
Plot-wise, it does its best stuff in the second half. The first half is FIGHT SCENES! AND AWESOME! AND LET’S RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MAIN CHARACTER’S PAST! And then the second half is where we get all the plot payoff. It’s satisfying, for the most part, but it makes for a somewhat bland first half as we make our way through mountains of stuff (like training montages, requisite battle scenes, and whatnot) before we get to the actual stuff. But the movie isn’t that long (a little over an hour and a half) so it’s not that bad. My one criticism is that the last third seemed a bit rushed and forced. It’s not THAT complex of a plot, but several important things happen over the space of about twenty minutes and it gets a bit crowded. There was one important character who, I wish had been given more depth in the beginning so as to give the end more impact.
I also like how the movie doesn’t take itself seriously at all. There’s lots of playful moments that remind the audience that we’re not watching a history movie or even a mythology movie; we’re watching the Rock club people over and over again, and it’s awesome. Do not go into this expecting a sweeping sword-and-sandal epic. I went in with VERY low expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was much better than I was expecting, but this isn’t 300. It’s more like The Mummy Returnsmeets Troy. Probably better to wait and get it on blu-ray for movie nights. If you can see it in the cheap theater, it’s fun on the big screen, but it’s not like Avatar where you really NEED to see it on the big screen at least once.
Though the big screen lets you really appreciate his flowy locks
An enjoyable action flick involving lots of satisfying clubbing and slashing and stabbing. Will probably get it when it comes out on blu-ray, but I’ll wait for a used copy.

See you all next week when, if all goes well, I will be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy.

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