Lucy (2014) / Action-Aci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Rufus Sewell, Reese Ritchie, Ingrid Bolse Berdal, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson, Aksel Hennie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenplay: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos (based on the comic, "Hercules: The Thracian Wars", by Steve Moore)

Review published July 26, 2014

This Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3, X-Men: The Last Stand) directed action-adventure's one saving grace for Hercules fans (yes, once again, the Romanized name in a Greek myth) is that it's better than the Renny Harlin fiasco, The Legend of Hercules, which came out of January the same year.  I suppose to those who venture out to the theaters to view it, the real saving grace is Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's (Fast & Furious 6, GI Joe: Retaliation) presence.  Certainly, Johnson is a bona fide star, and does carry the picture with his formidable charisma and physical presence.  But he's just not enough to stave off boredom from Ratner's lackluster approach to epic filmmaking, along with wafer-thin characterizations and situations rare to see outside of the pages of a comic book.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Hercules is adapted from a 2009 comic mini-series by Steve Moore entitled, "Hercules: The Thracian Wars."

In the film, Hercules is (allegedly) the son of the Greek god Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene, who would grow up to become a legend among men thanks to his vaunted Twelve Labors in order to escape the tenacious wrath of the jealous goddess, Hera.  With no other immediate major obstacles in his path, Hercules and his band of highly-skilled warriors are hired as mercenaries from a princess whose realm of Thrace is being ravaged by a civil war about to erupt and destroy her kingdom from a ruthless warlord.  But Hercules and his brothers in arms can't do it alone; to fight an army he's going to have to train hundreds of farmers and merchants to fight like one.

It's at about the time that you hear the plot that you begin to sniff out that something's not quite on the up and up.  You may think to yourself, "Is Hercules gonna try to actually vet this previously unheard of situation before he goes out to war?"  Given that there is a tragedy in his past that may have been the result of foul play, you'd think he'd be much more careful in forming alliances without asking a few questions first.  But that's the kind of movie we're presented -- thin and implausible, even in the big details.  Perhaps the most interesting notion is that Hercules' legend is built up by his storyteller/PR-rep nephew Iolaus (Ritchie, Prince of Persia) in order to secure high-paying merc gigs.  The so-called demigod's battles are accomplished to be sure, but he gets by with a lot of help from his friends.

Hercules reminds me of the kind of semi-hokey sword-and-sorcery epics that were in theaters back in the early 1980s, especially the Arnold Schwarzenegger star-making opus Conan the BarbarianIf I were feeling less charitable, I'd compare it to Conan the Destroyer, but I think that only half of the campiness in this film is intended, as Ratner does seem to try for serious, darker moments.  Unfortunately, only the campy moments seem to come close to hitting their mark, but not enough of them exist in order to string along a sense of momentum to carry it along as a fun, escapist lark.

At just a smidge over 90 minutes, it's a bit of a welcome departure to see a film with such an epic scale at only half of the usual run time. The best thing to do with lackluster material is to make it snappy.  The twelve labors is relegated to just a prologue (one wonders if a lot of intended material found the proverbial cutting room floor).  It's a PG-13 flick, so the massive battlefield action is tempered to a lot of clubbing and running people over, or when slashing, the use of some obvious CG blood is employed. The CG altogether is hit and miss, with some creatures looking quite sci-fi-ish, and towns looking like they're rendered as part of an idealized video game than in anything one might presume to find in the times of Ancient Greece.

While I do think the director tends to be over-maligned in the eyes of critics, I do lay the blame on Hercules' shortcomings mostly on the selection of Brett Ratner to guide it.  He really does appear to be over his head in delivering major battle sequences and larger-than-life characters in a compelling way; he is much more at ease dispensing moments of goofy jocularity than in trying to thrill us with feats of brute heroism.  It's only in the eventful finale that Ratner hits anything close to an action-movie stride, but it's too little, too late for the film as a whole since we've seen it all before, and seen it much better, in a host of other similar projects.  It's at this point where I'm chagrined to contemplate that, as disposable as Ratner's Hercules is, it might be the best representation of the mythical figure to grace the silver screen to date.  Let's get it right for once, Hollywood!

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo