Brett Ratner Presents...
Just six months after Renny Harlin’s Legend of Hercules, the latest iteration of his haunted low budget afterlife staring Joe Lunk or Kit Musculature, or something, we have Brett Ratner’s take on the same character: a mercifully concise would-be blockbuster that cements Ratner’s reputation as a hack par excellence.
From a conceptual point of view there’s very little to lament about Hercules. Dwayne Johnson’s well cast as the titular colossus, obliged to do little more than swing his tree trunk limbs and yell, the story is a refreshing take on the myth, grounded to up the jeopardy and minded to keep Hercules’ demigod status ambiguous, and the film’s designed to provide solid meat and potatoes thrills – an implacable foe, sword and shield battles, courtly intrigue and so on.
In fact so grateful are we that the film’s straight to the point and well paced, populated by straw men and women that fulfil their narrative function, albeit in a likeable fashion, and nothing more, that it’s tempting to ignore how workmanlike it is; a movie that’s constructed to do the minimum required to engage an audience. But then Brett Ratner, director of Rush Hour and moribund Silence of the Lambs prequel, Red Dragon, didn’t get where he is today by drawing attention to his presence behind the camera. In previous decades this might have been considered a career handicap but why risk hiring a helmsman with a dynamic visual style, gift for memorable composition and talent for working with actors, risking potential box office failure should audiences accustomed to filmmakers with artistic pretensions not take to the director’s leftfield approach, when you can employ Ratner and have the movie equivalent of a TV dinner?
Hercules is shot using the minimum of flair, competent blocking, and functional if unmemorable angles. There’s little to trouble the eye or the brain. That’s not to say that Ratner’s film isn’t entertaining or doesn’t hold your attention; it’s proficient at both, in the same way that a proficient swimmer will clear a few lengths of the pool without ever challenging for Olympic honours. Ratner, one feels, if vying to become Hollywood’s confectioner-in-chief, and this movie won’t hurt his candidacy one little bit.
Still some credit must go to writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spillotopoulos for their revisionist take on the Hercules myth. With the usual backstory mere conjecture and the precise character of the enemy unknown, there’s enough intrigue and promise to fill the efficient running time. The moral, when it arrives, centred on the true nature of heroism, clanks a little, but Johnson’s a likable vessel for such platitudes. If only action pedlar of old, Renny Harlin, had been given this cast and Ratner’s budget, with Ratner consigned to bargain basement hell, but sadly that’s just a story.