Rush Hour director Brett Ratner lays it on thick and fast in this smart and snappy yarn from the dusty annals of ancient Greece - charismatic muscle-bound hero, wise-cracking sidekick, crumbling temples, deliciously evil baddies, and beautiful women. It’s all here but hold the cheese and the one millionth extra from central casting - this Hercules is also big on myth-busting and humour.
Nothing is as it seems in this vision of ancient Greece, especially when it's comes to the duplicity of mere mortals and their cunning ways. Tales of Hercules’ legendary 12 Labours (the Hydra? Bunch of blokes in fright masks, mate) are told with a knowing wink and The Rock, who’s borrowed Joan Burton’s hair for the role, plays the son of Zeus as a mortal with a dark secret that has tarnished the myth. It looks like there may be feet of clay in those sandals.
He’s not exactly The Dark Knight riddled with existential doubt, just a decent bloke with a big spiky club who wants to do an honest day’s work. This turbo-charged malarkey kicks in with a neat opening sequence that gets the origin story out of the way fast and there really is no let up in the refreshingly short running time.
Hercules is now a mercenary, leading a hardened band of men and one Amazonian woman (a flinty Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) on the borders of the Thracian Wars, willing to do battle for either side as long as the payment is in cold hard gold.
When the King of Thrace, played with camp gusto by John Hurt, begs them to assist in training his motley men at arms to take on an advancing army, Hercules’ dormant nobility is stirred. Assisted by his loyal brigand, he springs into action and while the pitched battle scenes are more pre-watershed than pure bloodshed, the relative lack of CGI should be applauded.
The Rock may be front and centre of the action but Ratner wisely does not waste a strong supporting cast. A weathered Ian McShane is particularly droll as a seer who can tell the exact day and manner of his death, Rufus Sewell is cooly cynical and sarcastic as the most mercenary of these soldiers of fortune, and Hurt, as Lord Cotys, is the prancing genie in this chimera of mirrors and half truths.
At a neat 98 minutes, this is also one Grecian epic that won’t give you a bad case of numb bum as you nod off between those spectacular battle scenes. Hercules is not as dumb as it looks.