By Jacob Rich, Daily Arts Writer
Published August 6, 2014
Portraying a character that has been through many pop culture interations has to be one of the most difficult tasks for an actor. Not only is said actor expected to deliver his or her usual level of charisma and dramatic ability, but he or she is also expected to both satisfy fan expectations for how the character will be played while simultaneously differentiating the character enough to feel fresh and original.
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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s (“Fast and Furious 6”) portrayal of mythical hero Hercules in this adaptation of a recent graphic novel series is a sublime example of a failed attempt at such a task. It’s disappointing because The Rock’s casting in this role seems highly logical. In terms of pure physicality, The Rock is probably the closest person in the world to looking like the legend. His larger-than-life stature works swimmingly in action sequences, especially during slow-motion poses. The film opens promisingly, with the so-far silent protagonist Hercules hunting and dispatching the mythical beasts of the Twelve Labors in an exhilarating montage. The Rock nails the “Conan the Barbarian”-esque heroic imagery here.
Unfortunately, The Rock’s Herculean image is quickly ruined by a total lack of dramatic presence. He does not attempt to veil his ordinary voice to sound more like a Greek hero, and as a result, so many of his lines feel silly and out of place in this ancient legend. The worst offense is when immediately after delivering the final blow in a fierce battle, Hercules looks just past the camera and utters: “Fucking Centaurs.” This unfunny, unoriginal, anachronistic line is just one example of the many ugly, clashing lines of dialogue that plague this film.
Through each battle, the demigod Hercules is accompanied by four human companions, none of whom are original nor memorable. They essentially fill the same action-fantasy sidekick roles as the companions in fellow comic book adaptation “Thor,” but are somehow even less developed. Even the usually likable Ian McShane (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) is lame here, playing Amphiaraus, an aging warrior who won’t stop talking about his fate. His character amounts to little more than a weak motif that is never entirely given meaning.
So the film won’t win any awards for acting. That’s not the end of the world. But does great action make up for the not-so-great acting? Surprisingly, no. The first battle is decently fun and satisfying, with a good blend of CGI and practical effects making for a sensible action scene. Hercules’ strength is properly given bite and superhuman power, while the human soldiers’ abilities are appropriately scaled down. However, the action sequences take a puzzling nosedive after this one, with each scene becoming increasingly ridiculous and poorly choreographed. It almost feels as if the extras were becoming restless. By the time the last fight rolls around, it seems all rules established by the competent, well-orchestrated first fight have been thrown out. One of Herc’s human companions leaps around, blocking dozens of shots from neighboring guards at once with his axes, shattering both the arrows and the film’s continuity simultaneously.
Towards the end of the film, a huge narrative change is made to the popular legend. Discussing the details of the alteration would veer firmly into spoiler territory, but the change is one of the biggest problems with the film, diluting Hercules’ tragic backstory and drastically cheapening his character and motivation. Essentially, this change could be described in the exact same way as this film in its entirety: unsavory and unnecessary.