In the mythology of the West, the gods and demigods are susceptible to mortal ambitions, desires and emotions, and are therefore judged and assessed on the same level as human beings. The benefit, therefore, to filmmakers and storytellers is immense. There are so many ways to interpret a character, and graphic novels have taken this to new heights.
Hercules seems to be a favourite, and this year witnessed the release of two movies based on him. The latest, Hercules 3D, directed by Brett Ratner (of X-Men: The Last Stand
and Horrible Bosses fame), is based on the graphic novel The Thracian Wars (Radical Comics).
We all know about the 12 tasks of Hercules, each of which he completed successfully, but with much pain and sacrifice. Zeus, the chief of gods, had lain with a mortal woman, Alcmene, and the result of their union was Hercules, known for his strength. Hera, Zeus's wife, was not pleased, of course, and she was responsible for the extermination of Hercules's beloved family. Hercules then decided to live out the rest of his life as a human being, and not a demigod.
The movie begins with Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of loyal followers, including the warrior priest Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), doing their bit for humankind. When they are approached by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) with an appeal to save her father's kingdom from Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann), a cruel warrior, the group jumps into the adventure.
Hercules still has nightmares about his family, and he keeps seeing Cerebrus, the three-headed hound of the Underworld, in his dreams. One of the main reasons for his fearlessness is his need to forget his own tragedy. However, as he helps Ergenia, he realizes that there is more to the situation than meets the eye. And somehow, it is connected with his past.
Who is the real villain is this scenario? And what connection could Hercules possibly have with a random stranger who asks for his help? Hercules eventually does find out, and when he does, decides to stay back even after the mission is over, but does not realise just how dangerous the game has just become.
The story never lets you forget who Hercules was before he became this mercenary warrior. Everything in his life has had a profound impact on who he has become. In particular, his 12 tasks have made him a wiser and stronger person, who cannot support injustice. This leads to a few complications, but the movie is largely about a man defeated as far as personal happiness is concerned, and a man determined to ascertain that similar fates do not visit mere mortals. He may try to be modest about himself, but he is haunted, and invigorated, by the memories of his adventures.
The narrative chooses to portray a more complicated Hercules than we have ever seen on celluloid. Romantic alliances are fleeting, and the comedy that exists lies more in camaraderie than in situations. Hercules is not perfect, but he is honest in his intentions. And that wins him admirers. Much stress is laid on loyalty, and truth - because, after all, this is the story of a superhero, and he must triumph over all evil with the added benefit of a clean soul.
The story and the plot are fast-paced. You may become a little tired of Hercules's obsession with his past at some point, but those tales are still fascinating if you do not know his history. You may also be slightly uncomfortable with the constant need to whine or rage against the gods, but remember, that is completely acceptable in the Greek or Western cultures. Some of the comic situations seem forced, and of course, the plot points become predictable after a point, but regard this as an action movie, and you will not be disappointed with the outcome.
There is nothing in the production design that you have not seen before, and the costumes, mostly loincloth, are not very innovative. Since it is based on a graphic novel, the makers have tried to incorporate the feel of 300
, without seeming too inspired. This is a visual effects movie, more than a live action one, and those visual effects are eye-popping. The high speed and the wide angles are predictable, again, but if you are invested in the story, you will not find much to criticise. The 3D makes the movie more enjoyable.
Dwayne Johnson has always been an action hero, but he surprises us here with his ability to emote. Playing the disturbed Hercules seems to come naturally to him. Remember, the demigod was not known for being very smart, but was immensely likeable. And Dwayne Johnson manages to pull it off.
The other actors, while very effective in their roles, are overshadowed by the looming presence of the leading actor. Ian McShane holds his own here, but even a seasoned actor such as he has to bow down before Johnson's screen presence. Joseph Fiennes deserved a lengthier role, as did Rufus Sewell.
The writer of the graphic novel, Steve Moore, was involved in some controversy regarding the making of the movie. He passed away recently, but we will always be thankful to him for this latest take on Hercules's adventures, after his 12 tasks. Hercules 3D is a surprisingly entertaining and touching movie, and most of that should be credited to the writer. Watch it for pure fun and an adrenaline rush.