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The Rock in a hard place Hercules'

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Film offers different take on ancient Greek hero

So it would seem that we all have to come to terms with the fact that the Rock is a movie star.

Dwayne Johnson has somehow found a way to translate his (admittedly significant) pro wrestling charisma to the big screen. While he might not have much in the way of range as an actor, there is no denying that he cuts a compelling figure on screen. He's even shown flashes of depth in movies like 'Snitch' and most notably 'Pain and Gain.'

Of course, flashes of depth or no, he's primarily up there to break stuffwhich is why he's an absolutely perfect choice for the titular hero in Brett Ratner's 'Hercules.' But be warned this probably isn't the take on the Greek legend that you're expecting.

Here, Hercules is not the son of Zeus. He is a mortal man (albeit an extraordinarily strong one). He is a mercenary warrior, traveling from realm to realm with his team to fight for pay. There's the smooth blade man Autolycus (Rufus Sewall; 'I'll Follow You Down'); the aged seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane; 'Jack the Giant Slayer'); the wild and feral Tydeus (Aksel Hennie; 'Pioneer'); the angry Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal; 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters'); and Hercules' nephew, the storyteller Iolaus (Reese Ritchie; 'All in Good Time').

This group uses the legends that have grown up around Hercules to their advantage, spreading tales of his feats in order to intimidate the enemy. But when the group is enlisted by Lord Cotys (John Hurt; 'Snowpiercer') to help defend the land of Thrace against the sinister Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann; 'I Am Yours'), they soon discover that while they live mercenary lives, there are some things worth fighting for far more than mere money. Hercules may be just a man, but one needn't be the son of a god to truly become a legend.

It's an interesting take on the Hercules story. There's something engaging about the idea of Hercules being more the product of a good PR machine rather than anything else. Of course, while this Hercules might be a mortal man, he's still possessed of what can only be called superhuman strength, so it's not like there's that much of a difference. Still, it makes for an intriguing concept, elevating what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill sword-and-sandals epic into something more.

(There are also a few anachronistic moments that are frankly baffling. They're jarringly out of place; no spoilers, but you'll know them when you hear them.)

The Rock is ideally suited for this role physically - he's at his best when he's in the middle of the action - but the surprise is that he proves able to summon up a bit of pathos when necessary. Sure, it's a little overwrought, but 'Hercules' is that kind of movie. His embrace of the role makes him a lot of fun to watch.

The supporting cast has a handful of actors who are clearly delighting in the emotive opportunities presented by this sort of film. Sewall is quite good as Hercules' second-in-command; McShane is delightfully cynical as Amphiaraus he has some of the best lines in the film and he delivers them with relish. And John Hurt is just a delight he chews the scenery to such an extent that it approaches gloriousness. The rest of the cast is perfectly serviceable, if unspectacular.

(Also worthy of mention: apparently everyone in ancient Greece spoke with a British accent. Everyone except Hercules, that is.)

Brett Ratner isn't what you'd call a great filmmaker. He might not even be a good filmmaker. But with 'Hercules,' he shows the grasp of pop competence that has allowed him to somehow find consistent work as a big-budget Hollywood filmmaker. He's basically the guy you get if Michael Bay is too pricy/unavailable.

'Hercules' is perfectly serviceable entertainment. It's not great cinema, but it isn't bad either. And with Brett Ratner at the helm and the Rock as the star, 'okay' is about what you'd expect.

[2.5 out of 5]


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