'Hercules': What the Critics Are Saying

Dwayne Johnson leads as a hardened mercenary who must save a kingdom from civil war in Brett Ratner's adaptation of the graphic novel based on the classic myth.

Hercules, out Friday, follows the indomitable Dwayne Johnson as the eponymous Greek demigod-turned-mercenary who must save a beautiful princess' kingdom from civil war.

Produced and directed by Brett Ratner and based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, the general consensus remains that what you see is what you get — and at the very least, it's not Renny Harlin and Kellan Lutz's The Legend of Hercules, widely panned by critics earlier this year.

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The Paramount and MGM film is expected to earn in the mid-$20 million range in its opening weekend — a disappointing start for the $100 million outing that might have accomplished the Herculean task of finally launching a franchise centered around the Greek hero.    

Read what top critics are saying about Hercules

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Stephen Farber praises the film in his review for its sense of proportion, noting that "the movie is often clunky, but at least it's fast and unpretentious. And its likable star, Dwayne Johnson, manages to murder legions without ever seeming sadistic. Less violent than 300, less compelling than Gladiator, this new addition to the sword-and-sandals genre seems likely to please the fanboy audience and stir up some impressive box-office numbers."

Farber also commends the cast for bolstering the picture. "Ian McShane gives a droll performance as a soothsayer who's always surviving predictions of his own death," he says. "John Hurt is working in the glorious tradition of Claude Rains in The Adventures of Robin Hood while Joseph Fiennes is doing a Basil Rathbone as his venal confederate … Ingrid Bolso Berdal wields a mean bow and arrow, and Tobias Santelmann (star of the Norwegian Oscar nominee Kon-Tiki) has an imposing presence as Hercules' antagonist-turned-ally." He concludes warmly, "It may sound like a backhanded compliment to praise this sometimes cheesy movie for never taking itself too seriously, but in a summer of bloated spectacles, this modesty should not be underestimated."

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The New York Times' Ben Kenigsberg writes that Hercules is a "tongue-in-cheek revisionist mythology, pitched at classics students who prefer to attend their lectures stoned" and "poses questions better left unasked." While yes, it is better than The Legend of Hercules, and "Ratner shows an eye for military formations and spears in 3-D, giving Hercules a weight and physicality lacking in 300," the film fails to make proper use of Johnson. "Like Hercules, the movie is plagued by a split identity: It's half-slog, half-Mel Brooks."

Los Angeles Times' Gary Goldstein says that after the $100 million effort, "the results are canny, fast-paced, and, for what the film attempts to accomplish, enjoyable." Of Johnson as the lead, "the truth is the part fits the big guy like a glove. Without putting too fine a point on it, Hercules is Johnson's King Lear or Willy Loman; an iconic, aspirational role that's been long-simmering in his wheelhouse." Ratner "keeps a firm grip on the film's formidable, CGI-enhanced, epic action sequences as well as its few quieter moments, smartly keeping things moving apace with propulsive skill," and the 90-minute adventure "feels satisfyingly complete. ... The film's Imax 3-D presentation, where available, is crisp and gorgeous, if not entirely essential."

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls the film "cheerfully ridiculous," and teases that "there were no cigars in those days, but if there were, Hercules might well have felt the need to spark one up; instead, he must content himself with other alpha-male mannerisms, such as removing from around his neck the tooth from the Nemean lion he defeated, and presenting it to a wide-eyed little boy who hero-worships him." He also gives credit to Ridley Scott's Gladiator, a film from which Hercules "cheekily borrows."

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USA Today's Scott Bowles gives the film three stars out of four: "They've made a sword-and-sandal spectacle that entertains. ... The sets are spectacular, and the 3-D battle scenes, particularly an ambush early in the film, avoid devolving into a morass of blood, swords and severed limbs. ... [It] is more about flexing brawn with just a dash of brain. And given the rash of bland sword-and-sandal flicks, a dash might be just the trick."