Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hercules [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (1 Star)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

As derivative as Hercules [2014] (directed by Brett Ratner, screenplay by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, based on the Radical Comic [wikip] "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" by Steve Moore [IMDb]) may seem -- the film's basically the Schwarzenegger starring Conan the Barbarian [1982] crossed with 300 [2006], with homages to The Gladiator [1986], the Liam Neeson costarring Clash of the Titans [2010] remake and the "band of brothers in arms" of the recent Marvel Comics' inspired Thor [2011] thrown into the mix -- I found it to be a fun speculative (and certainly revisionist...) inquiry into the origins of the Hercules legend ;-).

For the film plays with / hangs on a great question: How would the story of a hero like Hercules begin?  There would have to have been SOME fighter/hero that would first catch a storyteller's (and more importantly AN AUDIENCE'S) interest.  Now what if the Hero began life (or the storyteller made him) "an orphan"?  How much greater the Hero's accomplishments would seem if he began life "on the mean streets of ancient Athens" ;-) -- a sort of Homerean Rocky Balboa ;-).  Then, well, if he's an orphan, it's not really a big jump (in the ancient world anyway) to posit that his father was "a God" (Indeed, this would help explain the Hero's surprising abilities).  Then, in Greek Mythology, the Awesome "King of the Gods" Zeus had a very jealous wife, the Goddess Hera (the to this day remembered as the Greek Goddess of HEARTH and Home ...).  So even though this child, who grew-up to be Great was the son of a God, there's EVEN a ready explanation of why his beginnings were so terrible: he was being punished by Zeus' wife Hera ;-).  Why once one starts along this path, the story practically writes itself ;-)

Now what if, as a story teller begins to build Hercules' LEGEND, he decides to CONFLATE the various heroic stories of other local heroes.  What's the sense of having 10,000 stories of various local heroes when you can have ONE SUPER-HERO.

Now -- and this is the jump / genius of the current story -- what if we "misunderstood" the Hercules legend to think that there was ONE Hercules (sort of like a ONE SUPER GENIUS Thomas Edison or a ONE/ULTRA-UNIQUE Steve Jobs).  What if a better conception of thinking of Hercules would be that of thinking of him as Hercules, INC -- A TEAM OF FOLKS doing all kinds of SPECTACULAR THINGS under THE BANNER of "HERCULES" (and not minding that perhaps Hercules got a little more credit -- like Thomas Edison getting "credit" for inventing 10,000 things when he actually "invented" the modern engineering workshop (where he hired teams of scientists/engineers to do the "realization work" for him), or Steve Jobs getting "credit" for everything from the Apple 2 computer to iTunes to the iPhone/iPad, when again there was _an entire corporation_ built around his ideas to bring them to reality.  Now, why would "the underlings" not mind?  BECAUSE THEY GOT PAID, THEY DID THEIR WORK AS A JOB).  So what if "Hercules" was like that?  Perhaps he was "the guiding inspiration' to the Legend, BUT ... his various "labors" were actually DONE BY A TEAM (a Hercules, INC as it were) and if one pushed things even further, even his "12 great labors" were a perhaps little spruced up by his PR folks (in the film, PR person) to make them seem a little more "awesome" than they actually were ... what's a little "stretching the truth" to "make a sale" ;-)

Isn't this fun? ;-)

And so it is ... in this film, we follow a smiling, "showman" Hercules (played spot-on for this task by ex-pro-wrestler (!) Dwayne Johnson) donning his lion skin (from "his" famous "labor" of killing of the Neomean Lion) and sporting his trademark CLUB, while his work is done, yes, PARTLY by him, but ALSO by a pretty good _team_ behind him, including:

His childhood BFF Autoclutus (played by Refus Sewell), who like Hercules was ALSO "AN ORPHAN" who knew Hercules from "mean streets of Athens days" (and in Greek Mythology, was ALSO to have had a divine father, in his case Hermes).  Being "awesome fighters" they were sent by the King of Athens on all sorts of Ancient Greek "special ops" missions (some of which came to be remembers as part of the above mentioned "labors of Hercules/  And eventually, they ditched the Athenian army and came to found an Ancient Greek "Blackwater-like" group that that they decided to call Hercules (since by then he had "gotten a name").

Along the way they also took on:

Amphiaraus (played by Ian McShane) in greek legend remembered as a seer / prophet, who in the group, played a sort of "older wisdom figure role" who kept the "young bloods in line," kept them focused "on the bigger picture" and so forth,

Atalanta (played by Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) portrayed here Amazonian huntress who they met on one of their "labors" / "special ops,"

Tydeus (played by Eksel Hennie) portayed in the film as a somewhat feral fighter, one who Herc and Autoclutus found as "the sole survivor" or a village that had been destoryed by some ancient Greek monster in some way,

and finally, Iolaus (played by Reece Ritchie) both in the film and in Greek mythology remembered as Hercules' nephew (and companion on various of his labors).  In the film, he plays the group's principal "PR man" spinning the fame of Hercules in a way to get the group more work.

And so it is that in the film they do find a new "gig" ... to help the King of Thrace (played by John Hurt) rout a rebellion led by a certain Rhesus (played by Tobias Santelmann).  Much "sand and sandal" combat and intrigue ensues ...

All in all, while the violence of the film would probably not make the film suitable for little children, the PG-13 rating is probably appropriate.  And I found the movie a refreshing blast.

I liked the story, I liked the characters.  They brought Greek Mythology to life in a way that I have to say was, after all is said and done, _surprisingly_ original!  Honestly, good job!

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