Hercules Review – Hack ‘n’ Slash


Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay), Steve Moore, Admira Wijaya (graphic novel)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane

Hercules


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Johnson’s casting.

Worst part: The topsy-turvy narrative.

In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend,  we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.

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John Hurt – King of Paycheques!

Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.

“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).

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An even-more-badass Ian McShane.

Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting  characters are sorely underdeveloped.

In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.

Verdict: A D-grade sword-and-sandal adventure. 

Lucy Review – Running on Empty


Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

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Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

 

 

3/5

Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.

Worst part: The overblown final third.

French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.

ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.

“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).

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Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.

With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.

From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.

Verdict: Like Lucy herself – slick but insecure.