That pitch is present from the outset. The opening introduces Herc as "son of Zeus - the Zeus!" The real problems lie in the stripping away of the façade and Hercules and his band of rogues (of which Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane are the pick) exposure as charlatans. The magic innate in the character is syphoned away as it slowly dawns on the audience that they will not get the gargantuan finale worthy of such an exalted champion. Equally, the film never has as much fun as one might desire either from Hercules or from the star. Johnson is perfectly cast as the hulking bruiser - he does, at least, hit things very hard and lift things very heavy - but he's muted, the material never offering him a chance to shine.
Hercules is regularly portrayed in literature as a drunken, bawdy oaf, which would have seemed an ideal avenue to go down in this alternative narrative. It would have provided the audience with something new, afforded the character some kind of trajectory, and allowed Johnson to employ his considerable comic talents. This, however, is played entirely straight. Herc may be strong, but he is just a man - shaped not by history, myth or the character's lineage, but by the stale aesthetic of modern action cinema. He could have been a contender. It could at least have been a fun romp. Instead, Ratner's Hercules casts off the compelling tales that have lasted millennia and takes the son of Zeus from hero to zero.
This review was originally published for theatrical release on 24 July 2014.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson