Monday, July 28, 2014

hercules and dwayne johnson have fun with a classic

The kid and I checked out Hercules this weekend and were very presently surprised. I guess I should say that I was presently surprised, the kid just loved it. In fact, she loved seeing it on Friday so much that we went back the next day and took in the IMAX 3D version. I'm not usually very fond of 3D, but love the sheer scale of IMAX. I actually preferred the film in 2D, however. Hercules is a good-looking film, and the 3D, while it may have made some of the battle scenes more visceral, ended up distracting me from the overall action and and cinematographer's composition.

Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) in search of the Hydra

Hercules was directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand, Tower Heist, Horrible Bosses), who has a penchant for overblown actioners, and based on a comic book Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore. While some critics have complained that the famous labors of Hercules which spin by quickly in the film's trailer appear just as quickly in the film, that is not quite a fair criticism. It is true that this version of Hercules's story tends to spin the Greek hero's legend on its head, portraying Hercules as just one member of a team of elite mercenaries. The band of brothers (and one sister), with the aid of some skillful publicity, has spun the story of his godly parentage and fantastic exploits to their great (monetary) reward. But fans of Greek mythology will notice some sly nods to both Herc's adventures as well as some other famous Greek heroes — and the movies made about them — especially in a powerful scene where warriors rise from the ground a la the classic Jason and the Argonauts. And what is mythology anyway, but a constant reinterpretation of a classic story?

The Nemean Lion hat and club are just too cool
This film's Hercules, played by Dwayne Johnson, may be quite human, but his physique is certainly larger-than-life. Johnson has said he trained harder for this role than any other, and the results are truly impressive, as his Hercules is, without question, the film's most special effect.
"I trained and worked harder than ever for 8 months for this role. Lived alone and locked myself away (like a moody 260-lb. monk) in Budapest for 6 months while filming. Goal was to completely transform into this character. Disappear in the role. Press journalist asked me today, with the mental & physical toll the role had on me, would I do it again? Not only would I do it again ... I'd do it f*cking twice."
As fun as it is to watch Johnson take on the role of Greek's strongest hero, what really makes the film are all the wonderful actors that surround him. Hercules's traveling companions include Ian McShane as the seer Amphiaraus (who also knows how to wield a long spear); Rufus Sewell as the smart-talking Autolycus, who is very handy with a blade; Norwegian actors Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as the huntress Atalanta, whose bow can be used to take down enemies as much as her arrows, and Aksel Hennie as Tydeus, who suffers from an ancient form of PTSD; and Reece Ritchie as Iolaus, his young nephew, whose tales of his uncle's exploits serve as his calling card. The group forms a tight unit, and their humor and camaraderie helps make them a more convincing and engaging group of super-heroes than the Avengers.

The gang's all here: L-R: (Tydeus) Aksel Hennie, (Atalanta) Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Hercules, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), and Amphiaraus (Ian McShane)
Herc and Co. are just about to hang up their weapons and head for a well-earned retirement when Lady Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) approaches them to take on one last (and very lucrative) job — to aid her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt), whose land has been besieged by a mysterious enemy named Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). It's a pretty basic adventure movie set-up, but things move swiftly and entertainingly, with some humor and even a few surprises. Joseph Fiennes turns up as one of Herc's previous employers, King Eurystheus of Athens. It's great to see him and especially great to watch John Hurt once again don the robes of a classical-era character. Johnson's Hercules is haunted by his past — he woke one evening to find his wife Megara and their children murdered. He has been trying to atone for his alleged crimes ever since.

So lovely to see you: John Hurt as Lord Cotys

Although everyone adds to the proceedings, Ian McShane almost steals the show with his wry Amphiaraus, who has prophesied his own death, but so far hasn't seemed to time it precisely:
[A flaming javelin comes flying towards Amphiaraus, who spreads his arms wide, ready to receive the blow]
Amphiaraus, "My time ..."
[Hercules runs past him, grabs the javelin, and throws it back]
Amphiaraus, "Do you mind? I was having a moment!"
Hercules, "You're welcome."
The rugged locations (filming was done in Hungary and Croatia) add a lot to the atmosphere, but it is the non-stop action, Johnson's huge musculature, and clever twists on a well-known story that really make Hercules so much fun.

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