When I decided to watch the new Dwayne Johnson movie “Hercules” my main question was “Will a black Hercules work?” As it turns out, as far as authenticity goes, the lead character’s race is the least of this movie’s problems.
Race-wise, Johnson pulls it off. He certainly has the height and musculature to play the notoriously bad tempered demi-god and most of the time it’s easy to think of him as just an unusually swarthy Greek with a rather broad nose…
And let’s face it, while Johnson is no Olivier, he is a better actor than most muscle heads in Hollywood and unless there is an unknown white man out there working as a waiter, he’s probably the only one with both the body and the acting skills for the job. Not to mention that an unknown wouldn’t have been able to get the 100 million dollar budget. Of course, the race thing goes completely under the bus when one realizes that this character is not actually Hercules!
It is never established whether this man really is or is not the son of Zeus, his labors seem to be largely a pack of lies, the hydra was a bunch of guys wearing masks, Cerberus was a trio of dogs, and the centaurs are just dudes on horseback! In other words, they jettison virtually all the fantasy elements and all we are left with is a superhumanly strong dude who has some serious guilt issues. This might have been okay had they called the movie “Mysterious Strong Guy,” and gotten rid of all the fantasy elements including his strength, but they didn’t. Had they done so we might have had an intelligent exploration of how myths like Hercules, Sampson and – probably the first of such figures – Gilgamesh came into being. It is not at all hard to see how a man like Andre The Giant could have been the basis for such characters. We know it’s happened with non-human figures – the Giant Oarfish, at about 55 feet in length, very quickly became the Sea Serpent, measuring well over a hundred feet. So too would have been the case with someone who was over 7 foot tall, almost as broad, and able to pick up 200 pound men the way a dwarf picks up a kewpie doll – such a man would very quickly have been exaggerated from a freak of nature to a superhuman, indeed, even a demi-god. How else could such amazing strength be explained?
But such a movie is not what we get, simply because Not Hercules possesses a supernatural degree of strength, and is seen one handedly throwing men several feet through the air, tearing chains out of the ground and, most absurd of all, bringing a statue weighing 100s of tons crashing down! Apparently, everything about the Hercules myth was bullshit except Hercules himself! What we are left with is a movie which, while an entertaining action-adventure flick leaves one feeling very unsatisfied. It’s not a Hercules movie, it’s not an exploration of the reality behind the myth, it’s a sort of half-assed hybrid of the two and it simply doesn’t work. Look at it this way – lemonade is tasty, chocolate milk is tasty, but do you really want to mix them together and gulp the mixture down? Probably not. This is what “Not Hercules” is – a chocolate milk and lemonade shake, a sardine and peanut butter sandwich, salt in your coffee. It simply does not work, not as an intelligent movie. As action entertainment, if you go into it knowing what you’re not getting it’s pretty good, but if you go in expecting Hercules you are probably going to be sorely disappointed.