My biggest complaint about the Dwayne Johnson version of HERCULES (not to be confused with the January release THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, starring Kellan Lutz; actually, no one would mistake the two) is that this fairly entertaining, slightly empty-headed piece would have been over-the-top insane were it not trying so hard to be PG-13. An R-rated HERCULES would have ruled the empire. As it is, it's still remarkably violent and hilariously good/bad film from, of all people, director Brett Ratner (the RUSH HOUR trilogy), who at least is smart enough to let things get silly just when they're on the verge of getting too serious.
The film has an interesting take on the mythology of Hercules, in that it wonders what if the legend were actually a bit of a PR stunt to make Hercules more appealing as a for-hire mercenary. For example, what if the many-headed Hydra he defeated as part of his "Trials" was many not exactly the monster it's been made out to be, or if the three-headed dog Cerberus was actually just three separate dogs that just like to hang out together. In HERCULES, the hero has a posse that includes the young Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who is his personal hype machine, rewriting his every adventure into something bordering on mythology. There are even hints that Hercules may not be the son of Zeus and thus not part god.
Team Hercules also consists of Ian McShaine as a mystic who can see the future, Rufus Sewell as his oldest friend Autolycus, Aksel Hennie as the feral Tydeus, and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as the warrior princess Atalanta, who uses a bow and arrow like an automatic weapon. They are on the verge of making enough money as freelance mercenaries to almost retire, when a major payday lands in their laps in the form of Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt), whose city is about to be under siege from a particularly vicious enemy. But the film also devotes a fair amount of time to Hercules' violent past when he was the protector of King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes, sporting lovely golden locks), as well as a father and husband to a family long since dead, possibly by his own hands. Oh, this Hercules is a tortured man.
The film's action sequences, silly one-liners and some well-timed (if not entirely unpredictable) plot twists are hit and miss, to be sure, but a lot of it sticks and makes it clear that no one is taking this thing seriously, which actually works to the film's advantage. Casting Johnson in this role is just too on the nose; this might have been the type of film he would have cut his teeth on around the time of THE SCORPION KING, but believe it or not, he's moved beyond the pure action stuff. Which in a strange way is why HERCULES works more often than not. Johnson is actually injecting a bit of warmth and knowing to a character that is grossly underwritten. And the idea that the story seeks to knock down the Hercules legend a peg or two is a great idea (the story is actually based on the comic book “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”).
Still, there are so many other, much better films—big and small—out there right now, it's tough to justify going to see this one over about a half-dozen other ones. That doesn't mean I'm not recommending it; I'm just saying there's no reason to prioritize it. I like the way the actors work past the clunky speech patterns (if Johnson is putting on a British accent of any kind, I couldn't detect it) and silly clothes (although wearing the hollowed out lion's head is sheer genius) to bring us something resembling human beings walking in those sandals. Much like the former Rock, HERCULES is a lean, mean action machine that comes in under 100 minutes, looks decent in 3-D (lots of spears and arrows in your face in this one), and offers up just the slightest hint of intelligence and wisdom in the process. I dug it.