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Movie review: Johnson flexes muscle in bloody 'Hercules'

Published July 28, 2014 10:53 am

Review • Action epic serves up too much bloody violence.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Director Brett Ratner's "Hercules" may be as pure an example of "what you see is what you get" in movie history.

It's Dwayne Johnson, the artist formerly known as "The Rock," playing Hercules, the strongman demigod of Greek legend. Movies don't come any more basic, and straight-forward, than that.

Actually, the movie does try to complicate things a bit, as Ratner ("Rush Hour") and screenwriters Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos adapts the late Steve Moore's comic book "Hercules: The Thracian Wars." The results are a grab-bag of grandiose speechmaking and solid visual effects — though none more eye-popping than the oiled-up Johnson looking fierce.

Ratner introduces Hercules the way the ancient Greeks encounter him — with his reputation preceding him. It's Hercules' nephew and scribe, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who tells of Hercules' exploits, as the son of Zeus and the human woman Alcmene, who slew the Hydra and the Nemean Lion among his 12 labors. This litany is meant to scare prospective enemies before Hercules even starts knocking down enemies.

Establishing Hercules' fearsome reputation is a group effort, as he's aided by the warrior Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the Amazon archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and the mute brute Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) — powerful fighters who are The Pips to Herc's Gladys Knight.

Hercules' crew are mercenaries, selling their talents for gold, which is what the besieged Lord Cotys (John Hurt) offers for Hercules & Co. to rescue Thrace from what he says is the invading armies of Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). Hercules agrees, swayed by Cotys' caring daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), and works to train Cotys' ragtag army into a strong fighting force.

As the battles commence, Hercules eventually realizes there's more going on in Thrace than Cotys is telling — and that it's linked to Hercules' dark past, when his family was slaughtered under the orders of the Athenian king, Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes).

The story produces some puckish humor from McShane, and an interesting discourse about the line between truth and legend. But Johnson's verbal skills aren't what pay the bills, so the story soon becomes secondary to the action.

The battle sequences are fierce, tight and exciting. They're also ferociously bloody for a PG-13 rating, and turn "Hercules" from a fun action endeavor to something more disturbing.

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'Hercules'

Dwayne Johnson is charismatic as the Greek legend, but the movie's violence is tough to stomach.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Now open.

Rating • PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity.

Running time • 98 minutes.