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Adapted from the five-part comic book by the late Steven Moore, Hercules - played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson - is cast in a new light; world-weary and battle-worn. This is the years’ second – and far better – re-imagining of the Greek hero.

Thankfully, director Brett Ratner (of Rush Hour and X-Men: The Last Stand), had the insight to take the film beyond the mythical hero’s past accomplishments.

The plot

We are introduced to a new Hercules - a mortal soldier for hire, banded with a ragtag group of skilled mercenaries, including Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a knife-throwing thief; Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), an Amazon archer, Tydeus (Askel Hennie), a feral battle-loving warrior, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a teller of Hercules’ tales, and Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), a prophet who foretells outcome of battles, but is bad at guessing the time of his own impending death.

Johnson is visually compelling, wearing a lion’s skinned head as an ornament (in most cases, it’s an alternative for his dangly, wrangled hair). Yes, it does look weird, but the awkwardness - ported over from the comic book - works.

A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo

Hercules and co. are drafted into the service of Thrace’s King Cotys (John Hurt) to coach his barbaric, untrained men to conquer an army terrorising the land.

Cotys is old, has a country in near ruin, a husbandless daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) whose son, a wide-eyed innocent, is not ready to be the next king.

There is little more to the story than that.

A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo

Hercules has simple-minded war-strategies in hand, and the plot is utterly predictable.

Humour and action are employed (largely unsuccessfully) to cover the movie’s drawbacks. The screenplay by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos has a narrative that shifts too fast, too often.

Hercules’ legend is left to a quick flashback, where he grapples and chokes two snakes with his bare hands, kills a hydra in a swamp and tears out the fur of an extra-large Nemean lion.

A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo

Johnson is, of course, the center-point of this fable, but even then there is a certain lack of imagination in the way his character is dealt with. The screenplay lays down the groundwork, sets up events, but never ventures to unexplored grounds.

Keeping it real

Much like the comic, the movie is interested in debunking myths and keeping it real.

Did Hercules really kill his wife and children in one of his rages?

Did he really kill all those beasts (the hydra’s decapitated head which Hercules brings is little more than a snake-skinned mask)?

As a demi-God does he bleed when cut in battle?

Was he really the son of Zeus?

This fresh approach helps keep interest alive, especially since the average viewer will see the end coming a mile away.

The technical aspect

Ratner, and his regular cinematographer Dante Spinotti, have a practiced way of visual presentation.

Most of Ratner’s shots are limited to medium close angles and minimum camera moves, always keeping his actors in frame, intercutting only when necessary.

This closeness subconsciously creates a familiarity to the characters and, however grand or meek their journey is, it keeps our attention in check.

A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo
A scene from movie, "Hercules". – Courtesy Photo

Apart from that, technically there is really nothing spectacular about Hercules.

The CGI (computer generated imagery) has a seen-it-all-way-too-much negligence to it.

The Production Design by Jean-Vincent Puzos is dimly lit and featureless (though the lack of light is a no brainer because of olden times), and the editing by Mark Helfrich and Julia Wong keep events – and scenes – well stitched, without seams.

Ratner does have an eye for military staging, which thankfully, prevents inertia from settling in when the movie goes battle-heavy.

The final word

Hercules is a worth-your-while cinema experience.

Frankly, I’ve seen a lot worse in the same genre (and Johnson, like always, is very likable). It’s not really original, but hey – in this day and age of cliché, I guess any port in a storm will do.

Read review in Urdu here.

Distributed by Paramount and MGM, Hercules is rated PG-13

Directed by Brett Ratner; Produced by Beau Flynn, Barry Levine and Mr. Ratner; Written by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos; Cinematography by Dante Spinotti; Edited by Mark Helfrich and Julia Wong; Music by Fernando Velázquez; production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Tobias Santelmann, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, John Hurt, Rebecca Ferguson and Irina Shayk.