Was anyone waiting for yet another movie incarnation of the tale of Hercules, especially given that Renny Harlin's poorly reviewed sub-spectacle "The Legend of Hercules" was unleashed in theaters a mere six months ago? The quick answer: probably not.
That said, the mythically powerful demigod is back on the big screen in the simply titled
If at first blush it feels as if casting
And if it's not exactly an acting stretch for the ex-wrestler, Johnson brings a deft physical urgency and larger-than-life nobility to this ancient superhero. He takes the part seriously, no question. But there's also a playful quality to his performance that mitigates the kind of ponderousness often associated with these roles.
The script by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, based on the graphic novel "Hercules: the Thracian Wars" by Steve Moore, deconstructs some of the character's mythic history, primarily: Is he really the spawn of Zeus or is that just a bunch of BC baloney? And if he is a mere mortal — albeit one with melon-sized biceps and the power to destroy a lion with his bare hands — does it matter as long as he delivers the goods?
Hercules' reimagining here also includes a past haunted by the mysterious death of his wife and children three years earlier. The trauma has turned the Greek legend, he of the famed "12 Labors," into a rootless mercenary, exchanging his fighting skills for sacks of gold. His latest job involves helping the benevolent Lord Cotys (
Though he leads the charge, Hercules is aided immeasurably by a devoted circle of fearless fighters who provide not only physical and moral support but nice doses of wry humanity. They include aging soothsayer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), Amazonian warrior Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), the feral Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and Hercules' nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a charming storyteller and nascent soldier.
Director Brett Ratner keeps a firm grip on the film's formidable, CGI-enhanced, epic action sequences as well as its few quieter moments, smartly keeping things moving apace with propulsive skill. At a compact 90 minutes plus end credits, there's no time for dawdling, yet the story — or at least this particular chapter of it — feels satisfyingly complete.
The movie is also visually compelling thanks to veteran cinematographer and frequent Ratner collaborator
And for those who want their Hercules to loom even larger, the film's Imax 3-D presentation, where available, is crisp and gorgeous, if not entirely essential.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes