Hercules Brett Ratner

Hercules Brett Ratner
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In some strange way, it feels as if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been inching towards playing the title role in Hercules his whole career. From his rise in the WWE to subsequent mainstream success with The Scorpion King and how he then helped to revitalize the Fast & Furious franchise, the larger-than-life figure has shown a knack for making the most of his abilities by compensating for what he lacks in the acting department with natural charisma and showmanship.

That's at least a little like the way the demi-god Hercules manages to harness the power of the gods bestowed upon him by his father, Zeus. Yes, "THE Zeus," Ian McShane helpfully explains in the opening narration. Having completed his legendary 12 labours, Hercules now leads a band of mercenaries-for-hire that includes his storytelling nephew (Reece Ritchie) and a soothsayer (McShane), among others.

They are hired by the King of Thrace (John Hurt) to put an end to an ongoing civil war by hunting down a group of rebels led by Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), who is believed to be able to cast spells that cloud the minds of the enemy in battle and who may or may not be a centaur. Hercules knows it isn't going to be an easy task, but he's enticed by the king's daughter (Rebecca Ferguson) and her adorable son, who recites the labours as if they were Herc's greatest hits from the back of a collectible card.

The first hour or so is a pretty lifeless and uninspired affair, featuring a requisite training-the-army sequence and a giant battle against a horde of interchangeable warriors that has not been set up enough to remotely care about. It doesn't help that many of the interior scenes are dimly lit to approximate the glow of torches and end up so dark in 3-D that it's hard to even make out people's faces most of the time.

Things pick up in the last act, however, as the dynamic between Hercules and his group starts to take shape a little more. There's a good running gag about McShane's character having already glimpsed the way he's going to die and learning to embrace it, and Johnson does not disappoint in a few choice moments where he's able to unleash the full extent of his strength on his foes and inner demons.

It's fair to say that Brett Ratner's film isn't especially good, but it ends on such a high note and its star is so firmly in his comfort zone that a sequel somehow doesn't seem like all that bad a proposition.

(Paramount)