As a cinema go-er and history lover it can sometimes be hard to jump feet first into the on-screen world. Hercules (2014) ticked a lot of boxes but really ticked me off in other ways.
Spoilers? Hercules has been in stories for thousands of years but if you really don’t want to know anything you probably shouldn’t ready any further.
Zeus > Jupiter
Greek myth is so awesome the Romans nicked it, tweaked it and passed it off as their own and herein lies my first gripe with anything to do with Hercules…that’s the romanised version of his name! Heracles, from Hēra, “Hera“, and kleos, “glory”, is the paragon of masculinity and the most famous of all Greek heroes. His legendary strength, courage, ingenuity and sexual prowess (oo-er) have made him the most famous of mythical heroes. Hercules has become the accepted name across the modern western world but I can’t stop that little flutter of annoyance when I hear the sentence “The greek hero, Hercules”.
The film itself, clocking in at around 98 mins, is exactly what you’d expect from a big screen action movie. Swords, abs, blood & battle – bearded kings and mysterious prophecies. Hercules (2014) gained immediate points for sticking to the original myth (name aside) e.g. Hercules is the son of Alcmene and Zeus, NOT Hera (I’m looking at you Disney) and honourable mentions for his 12 labours.
There’s a distinct lack of the Gods in this film in terms of their interaction with mortals and their influence on the world which is a huge part of Greek myth. Whilst Zeus, Hera & Hades get name checks it’s suggested that Hercules is simply a super strong man whose connection to Zeus is nothing more than a tall tale to spread his story. An interesting take on the character known as a demi-god.
Dwayne Johnson does a really good job of portraying a very human Hercules with god-like strength and mortal emotions and motivations. The supporting cast boast some great actors – Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell – but their dialogue and interactions swing from bad ass to camp quips. Enjoyable as the jokes are they’re often quite out of place in the narrative or mood of the scene.
The battles are fun, Dwayne does some great fighting and there aren’t too many derp moments from the soldiers. Don’t expect anything like 300 here though, I don’t think there was a single splash of blood in any of the battle scenes. That’s not to say that the violence was completely tame, Hercules was particularly entertaining to watch as he wielded a huge club simply smashing in rib cages and breaking limbs. One running feature of all the battle scenes was that Hercules and his companions would always charge out and meet the hordes of enemies while the army he was with would form the very exaggerated ‘SHIELD WALL!’ Although this gives the battle scenes some variety so your not just seeing blocks of troops poke at each other it does leave you wondering why the bad guys don’t simply overwhelm Hercules and his friends in every fight.
For all its good points, Hercules (2014) falls into the common traps of movies set in the ancient world.
Dates are hazy at best for historians but there are some key events & timelines which are widely accepted as true. Hercules (2014) in particular ignores some of the more important milestones in the story of Heracles.
1) Soldiers are told when they die they will find themselves “in Elysium, seated beside such heroes as Perseus, Odysseus and the mighty Achilles”
No. Odysseus and Achilles were not yet born!
Before the Argonauts: Perseus et al
Argonauts (3 generations before Trojan War): Heracles et al
Trojan War: Achilles & Odysseus et al
I know why they’ve done this, plucking the heroes most famous after Hercules, but it’s just a blatant disregard for the stories especially when the likes of Troy (2004) have been such a big success. Can’t we entertain and educate audiences – films like this are often a gateway into interest in ancient myth and legend.
2) Heracles murdered his children
He did, in a fit of madness brought on by Hera but this movie sees Hercules as the victim of a jealous king’s trick – something about wolves attacking them – it was silly and unnecessary. Then again, the gods aren’t huge features in this movie anyway but I really felt like we lost something with this diversion from the story. It always seems as if Hollywood is afraid to ever venture from the same old traditional heroes, they are all exactly the same and their stories grow stale. Having a Hercules who had murdered his family in tragic circumstances would have given the character that extra level of depth that could have made this a much better movie.
3) The story isn’t from legend
I really find it very difficult to understand why script writers don’t just take the amazing stories of legend and put them on the screen. Why do we need to invent another adventure when there are so many already? We get just a glimpse of the 12 labours in the opening few minutes which were far more exciting than the plot itself.
In summary, if you’re a fan of this time period Hercules (2014) is a pretty decent offering which will sate your thirst for BC battles and but if you’re a die hard historian you might want to sit this one out.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
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BOOKS WE RECOMMEND
If you’re interested in Ancient Greece and myth In Other Worlds recommends the Adventures of Odysseus series for an easier to read Iliad tale.