What this means is that I tend to see a lot of bad movies based on Greek mythology.
It was with a sigh of resignation that I marched off to see the new Hercules which features Dwayne Johnson. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a good movie.
The movie begins giving the audience an abridged version of the myth of Hercules. We are told that he is the son of Zeus and then shown as he undertakes his twelve legendary labors. During this recounting of Hercules’ triumphs the scene cuts to our storyteller about to be tortured by bandits. This is the cue for our hero to come in and save the day and the point that we depart from mythology and take a turn into the creation of legends.
Hercules in myth is a singular hero. He may travel with others to add to their credibility as heroes in their own right but his stories are his own. Here we are given a Hercules that travels with a band of heroes that aid him in his epic battles. We are then given a different view of the the labors of Hercules which focuses on how they are still daring deeds but just this side of demigod performances. In particular, I enjoyed the revisiting of the hydra and the heads that Hercules returns to the king.
Dwayne Johnson delivers a good performance as Hercules. Unlike the last Hercules movie, Johnson has the build necessary to play the demigod famous for his strength. his supporting cast is the surprising part of this movie as they are so good. Ian McShane plays Amphiaraus, the warrior oracle. He provides council to Hercules and his ragtag band on their journey. He brings to the screen both a world-weary snarkiness that I love and a sense of deep wisdom that is need in an oracle. Atalanta also graces the screen and she is portrayed with both strength and vulnerability by Ingrid Bolso Berdal.
I was happy to see that this movie dealt with one of the pieces of the Hercules myths that is left out, the death of his wife and family. In the myth, Hercules is driven mad by Hera and slays his wife and children. It is this crime that leads to the twelve labors. Here, the twelve labors are what lead to the death of his family. It is a mystery introduced early on and plays out slowly across the movie. I loved how it was handled.
Normally, I would hate a movie based on Greek mythology that left out the gods. Brett Ratner has done such a good job of creating a legend around Hercules that this lack of gods and monsters in not missed at all. There is a feel of an adventuring party that easily replaces them in the story for me.
If you have a chance, I would recommend seeing Hercules at a matinee. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I was.