Made with mind mushing incompetence, Hercules is a disappointing departure from myth and legend.

In the annals of Greek mythology, volumes upon volumes have been written about the rise and ultimate decline of an epoch when Gods mingled with men. From divine beauty to epic battles of courage and preservation, cinema has sparred no opportunity in dramatizing this ancient eon either. Hercules, the new film from director Brett Ratner, is not a film that evokes such cinematic glory, nor is it anywhere in the echelons of the mythology it haphazardly borrows from.

In severing its umbilical ties to said mythology, Ratner’s version undoes everything we have learnt in school and in cinema, by having us believe that Hercules, the product of Zeus and a mortal woman, is not really the demigod we thought him to be. Instead, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) murdered his wife and children because his mother Hera made him do it. Talk about a nasty mother-in-law joke but given here that Hercules is named after his mother, you could be led to believe all sorts of things, including the blood line of Norman Bates. Constantly plagued by visions of this brutal murder, Hercules believes he is a mortal, while his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) believes otherwise. In fact, Ritchie’s voice fills the opening scene, narrating his uncle’s famed “Twelve Labours”. We get to see the first three Labours (nine-headed Hydra, Erymanthian Boar and Nemean Lion) in the first three minutes of the film. The remaining nine Labours are either non-existent or sloppily written. Instead, Hercules is written-off as a mercenary who agrees to help Lord Cotys (John Hurt) train his Thracian armies against an invasion of barbaric hordes and Centaurs lead by Rhesus (Tobias Santlemann). The reward is his weight in gold. Going from a rock to a boulder, that’s a lot of gold for Johnson’s Herc the Merc, and there’s plenty to be had between his band of misfit warriors – Ian McShane as the spear wielding Oracle Ampiaraus, Rufus Sewell as the knife-throwing Autolycus, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Atlanta the archer, and Aksel Hennie as a raging bull. What should be a piece of cake becomes a baking-oven mess when an absurd twist in the script redeems the aforementioned mother-in-law, only to reveal treachery and betrayal from the titular hero’s closest allies.

Somewhere in this mangled PG-13 mess (PG-15 in the UAE) is an R-rated film bursting at the seams. Along with the script writers, Ratner can’t seem to decide if this is Greek tragedy or Shakespearian comedy. There are traces of both, but bland at best. To be fair, the pragmatic departure from myth has an interesting plot arc, but nothing is done to build on it. Loopholes in the script add a lot of confusion to the premise, and part of this extends into having to decide whether or not Hercules is a demigod. While this gives Johnson’s Hercules some complexity, it also undermines the legend preceding his character. The name Hercules never sticks and all you see is Dwayne Johnson in leather armour with lion-skin head gear that would look fashionable in Siberia. Character misplacement adds to Ratner’s debacle. So much so, some actors have dual roles, first as white pieces and then as black pieces, all before someone turns the chess board around and you start all over again. John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes (as an Athenian King) are the victims here while McShane barely gets away with comic interjections.

Although action is fairly straightforward, nothing can be said about the hamstrung CGI used in the film’s three main battle scenes, except that it complements the mind mushing incompetence of the story. For all that it tries to be (Troy or 300-lite), Hercules is still void of myth and legend and everything you would expect in an eye-brow raising action film. You won’t even find Johnson’s cocked eye-brow to signify the gig is up.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.