A Self-aware, Hilarious Summer Flick8/10
I went to see Hercules with little to no expectations. The main reason was that I needed some cheesy summer flick to laugh at, and the movie's trailer did promise this kind of stuff. Well, the movie did not disappoint - indeed, it was cheesy, but in such a self-aware way, that it falls out of the "so bad that it's good" category and gets into the "simply good" one. Irony is dominant through the whole 98 minutes, and there are plenty of minor and major plot twists, albeit not a single forced one. And the story is delivered in an entertaining way without any unnecessary melodrama or heroism - a nice change from most of Hollywood big-budget action flicks.
The movie opens directly with the story of Hercules and the twelve labours. We see him battle the Lernaean Hydra, slay the Erymanthian Boar, and kill the Nemean Lion with bare hands - and that's in the first two minutes. Just when you'd think this flick would be nothing but Dwayne Johnson, bare-chested and tough, slaughtering stuff, it's revealed that the narrator is actually the nephew of Hercules, exaggerating the story of his uncle, trying to convince a bunch of pirates not to execute him by putting a stake through his bottoms. There are plenty of similar absurd situations in the movie, and there's never a pun to fall flat.
Character-wise, "Hercules" offers more than a bunch of heroes with big muscles and tear-jerking back-stories. While Hercules' family being murdered plays somewhat big part in the movie, the drama never feels forced (if anything, it actually feels a bit underwhelming). Also, I do have problems with Atalanta being the typical strong female action character but this isn't as much of a drawback - just something that could've been improved. All actors, from the cheesy Johnson and Fiennes to veteran John Hurt, reprise their roles in a great, fleshed-out way. The main antagonist of "Hercules" is indeed portrayed a wee bit over-the-top, but after all this is a comic adaptation and that's the proper way to portray comic villains.
The story doesn't disappoint either, presenting Hercules as a man with incredible strength who enjoys the rumors of him being the son of Zeus while being self-aware that he's still a mercenary who is most likely born to a mortal father. The legend of Hercules itself plays a large part in the story, and serves for a source of great jokes and puns. There's a major plot twist that I honestly didn't see coming, and neither did any of my friends with whom I saw the movie. "Hercules" receives bonus points for NOT including the obligatory love interest, and there's actually a reason for the main character to return for the final act (other than "he's the hero and it's heroes' job to safe the day").
Unlike most fantasy action-adventures, "Hercules" uses special effects sparsely and mostly for the scenery. Apart from the opening sequence, Hercules never has to battle absurdly huge foes or mythical creatures. The only moment he's fighting a CGI enemy did actually leave me a bit disappointed, but it was still OK. The writers creatively decided to go against the "overpowered supernatural creatures" cliche and instead opted for a huge army of ordinary men. It does emphasize Hercules' superhuman strength a lot more when you see a horse being thrown into the air, instead of a harpy or the minotaur being slain.
All in all, "Hercules" is a great movie to spend ten bucks on this summer. It doesn't break the boundaries of modern fantasy adventure flicks, but it does go against a lot of the tropes and cliches. It delivers an entertaining story while being self-aware of its own cheesiness. While I'm not familiar with the source material, "Hercules" does remind a little bit of "Asterix and Obelix" and provides solid 98 minutes of pure Hollywood entertainment, comedy and carnage.