Before he was a legend, he was a man.
Hercules. We have all heard the tale - be it through secondary means like Jason and the Argonauts, the Kevin Sorbo show, or even the Disney movie. At this point, one need ask themselves what more can they possibly tell of Hercules? Well, how about making him more human and casting him as Dwayne The Rock Johnson? Will it get you pumped enough to flip houses, or will it leave you wishing it was a little more mythical?
Hercules is a legend. He's also part god - but one of the god's doesn't like the fact that Zeus may have slept with a normal human woman to make this little man, and sees fit that she should do everything in her powers to try and kill the boy. Eventually, a deal is struck that if Herc can accomplish 12 labors (tasks) given to him, that angry goddess will chill out and leave him alone so he can maybe enjoy what's left of his life. And so, after a quick recap of Herc's many accomplishments, we shoot to more modern times, where it turns out that Herc has a band of merry men (and lady), and they find themselves doing quite a bit of mercenary work. After yet another successful mission, they are happened upon by a princess of sorts who wishes to take them home and talk to the king.
The king tells Herc and gang that he is being attacked by a marauding wizard, a man whose devastating their lands and people with his mind-controlling magicks and centaur army. Herc decides it's time to train the farmer army the king has amassed so that at least somebody may survive, but they don't get far in before trouble arises. Interspersed in this is some character building exercises, introducing the princess's kid who adores Herc, as well as some of the background for his crew. Anyways, as mentioned, things kick off a little sooner than expected, and against Herc's advisement the king sends his army off to try and save a local tribe from the evil mind-warper. Upon arrival, it turns out it is nothing but a trap, and the tribe has already been converted to the side of evil. The army of clones (no, seriously, you'll understand when you see it) attacks Herc and his side (including the king's army). A dynamic battle occurs, with Herc's team pulling the good guys back from the brink to pull out a victory.
It's after this victory that looks a lot like a loss that Herc manages to convince the king to let them train. We get a montage, and we get a bit more history for Herc explained at this point, before it comes time for the final battle with the mind-warping menace. Needless to say, the training really shines through, with team good pretty well routing the enemy forces. It's at the return to the city, however, that things start getting strange. The enemy leader - who turns out to not be a centaur or a sorcerer of any sort - tells Herc that the king is really just a greedy war-monger who wants to rule everything. This revelation only starts to be compacted by the king's actions at dinner, and after he presses the princess about it, the truth comes out - he is indeed the bad guy, threatening her son's life if she doesn't follow his orders. Herc, still carrying baggage from his past, takes poorly to this news, and refuses to leave things as they are. Can Herc and his band of companions stand up to the evil king and his now very well trained and equipped army?
For the story, I'd swear I've already seen this somewhere before. It really does seem that familiar - and I'm no super-huge Hercules buff who's seen all the movies out there or anything, although I have seen quite a few fantasy films. It has a few twists in there, and it pulls those off quite well (such as the "centaurs" and the whose good/bad), but it isn't anything necessarily ground shaking in reveals either. As far as pacing, it's very much an action film - introduction, battle, plot setup, characters, battle, characters, battle, repeat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it doesn't impact the entertainment value very much, but for those looking for a brand new tale of Hercules and his heroic triumphs, this one is very much toned down and seemingly plain.
That being said, it's most certainly a fantasy flick. Between some of the armor and many of the main characters weapons, that old Dungeons and Dragons feel just permeates throughout. In a way, this is actually a little strange - what with the seemingly more human take on Hercules. I won't complain too much though, because as stated before I've watched quite a few fantasy flicks (primarily because I like fantasy flicks), but it might come a bit jarring for some folks that there's all these noticeably fantasy things (expanding chariot blades?) in a story that pitches itself as a slightly more serious take on an old legend. Acting is good across the board however, even down to the kid - to be honest, that was a little surprising. It's been a while since I watched a movie where there wasn't at least one person that either wasn't good or wasn't just a mega-stereotype in delivery.
Effects work here is pretty good, with what I'd imagine is a good mix between practical and digital. Given the scale of some scenes, it's only reasonable that they would decide to go digital, although it does leave me wonder about certain moments. The battle with the tribe, for example, has me labeling it as "the clone battle" because almost every member of the tribe looks visually identical, as though someone copy pasted a bunch of painted up goatee warriors on the screen - convincing enough that you think they are normal people, but similar enough that it seems odd they would find that many fo the same looking person. Audio doesn't leave much to talk about really - it's handled well enough as far as balancing, but no real songs stick with you after you are done.
It's not a bad movie, and I don't think too many people would actively regret watching it. It doesn't have that level of cheese that the Kevin Sorbo tv show had, and also doesn't spend too much time talking about all the stories of Hercules we've already heard - so it's something new. On the downside, those who have watched a good deal of fantasy flicks may find themselves having a deja vu with the plot, which could possibly lessen the enjoyment of some. If you watched and enjoyed that roman-take on the old King Arthur tale, then this one will probably be worth a rental at the least.