One could be forgiven for being skeptical that a Hercules movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and directed by Brett "Rush Hour Trilogy" Ratner might have a brain in its head, but it actually does. Known for having completed most of his famous labors and achieving a level of adulation that he doesn't necessarily want, Hercules and a ragtag group of fellow warriors are summoned to Thrace by Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who promises to pay them Hercules' considerable weight in gold if they'll build and train an army to defeat the warlord Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). The story is fairly straightforward, and, more importantly, so is much of the action. The film's centerpiece is a battle between the Hercules-led Thracian army and hundreds of tattooed, axe-wielding C.H.U.D.s, and it's downright refreshing how classically it's shot. There's no post-300 speed-up/slow-down nonsense. If anything, Ratner seems more inspired by the relative naturalism of Game of Thrones, and while there's certainly plenty of CGI augmentation, this particular battle scene takes place in broad daylight and appears to have been shot on location rather than in a studio in front of a green screen.
It also helps that Hercules has a strong lead in Johnson. Not just physically strong, but with all apologies to Steve Reeves, Lou Ferrigno, and Ryan Gosling, he's by far the best actor to ever play this role. Brett Ratner is not John Ford, and Hercules is not The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but for a big, dumb late-summer action movie starring a former professional wrestler as a mythological strongman, it's refreshingly down to earth, and thoughtful about the tension between fact and legend.
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Producer: Beau Flynn, Barry Levine and Brett Ratner
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, John Hurt, Rebecca Ferguson, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Aksel Hennie and Reece Ritchie