This Is Hercules

Like Log, Hercules is better than bad.  I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it good, though it has enough working in its favor to overlook some of the rougher edges.

A big pleasant surprise is the film’s dissection of legends.  We’re treated in the opening with what most know of Hercules: his being a demi-god born of mortal and Zeus, attacked by snakes as a child from an angry Hera, and his Twelve Trials where Hercules bests some of the bigger names in mythology.  This is all handled as a quick montage before we learn everything he’s known for is bogus, Hercules being the leader of a small band of close mercenaries who’ve built his reputation to such heights through a simple game of telephone.  It’s an interesting direction in what I assumed was going to be an over-the-top rehash of Hercules via highlight real, and one which drew me into the film more than I otherwise would have been.  We’re shown the reality of myth, a behind-the-scenes, more, even experiencing some of the potential awe and uncertainty in what’s real/isn’t ourselves when the adversary is introduced, and seen commanding an army of centar.  There’s a suspension of disbelief here, yes, as already we’re allowing such things to be, but in the context of that world, it’s an engaging exploration of how even some of our own mythologies are grounded in the explainable truth.  Now, it’s not nearly as heady as I’m maybe making it out to be, just a deeper tract I’d have thought it capable of digging, initially.

There’s a nice blend too of sword and sorcery, though the leaning is much closer to sword than it is the latter.  I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a less gritty Conan, Hercules wanting to be raw without the personality to be so.  This isn’t a mark against him, necessarily, but more an observation against the film itself where it never seemed to choose a distinctive side for him.  I mean, you know from the outset he’s a good guy, so perhaps the comparison isn’t entirely fair, though we’re presented with a man who supposedly follows the gold, but more seems to follow his heart.  There’s just enough of a disconnect between Mercenary Hercules and Hercules Hercules to appear uneven in his character’s delivery.

The special effects have a strange cartoonish quality about them.  It says enough of how far technology has come where I still feel a little uncomfortable making such a statement, but they stood out rather than in, like watching something animated where the interactive object is slightly off-color than everything else.  I wasn’t pulled out as a result, though the final execution is a little off-putting and sloppy when the rest of the film is as nice to look at as it is.  Combat is fine.  It too has a cartoonishness, resting somewhere between Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, a space I’d argue the first Narnia film falls as well, if that gives you any sort of compass.  For a film hoping to be epic, Hercules settles on mostly grand, never having enough oomph to make the final push.  Again: this is better than I thought things would turn out as my bar was set at “likely to be bored” and coming through entertained, but I could easily see an argument for boredom too.  Just very middle-of-the-road.

Cast is good.  Surprisingly so.  John Hurt, Ian McShane, and Rufus Sewell all appear, and all do quite well.  I expected a phone-in, and was given fun instead.  I believe Dwayne as Hercules.  That’s as much of a character stretch as Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark, so the leap is logical and not much of a leap at all.  When I assume you’re already Hercules, we’re off to a fine start.

This falls under hesitant recommend territory.  I think if you’re forgiving and go in with little expectation, you’ll be fine.  It’s not even quite popcorn-flick status, unfortunately, the movie itself being popcorn without the butter, but popcorn is still popcorn, and not wholly worth complaining about when you have some, which is how this seems to settle.  The few misdirects with the story again elevate Hercules further than it should have been, so bear that in mind if you decide to venture forth.  Better than it deserves to be, and not quite as good as it could be.  Still: hesitantly recommended.

Disney did it better.


This Is Snowpiercer

I enjoyed Snowpiercer.  Quite a bit.  It hovered somewhere between Sci-Fi Channel (excuse me: SyFy Channel) and real-boy movie, which added to the charm, excusing a small handful of poor effects while allowing the story to be wilder than it might have otherwise been allowed to be had the budget been larger.  Sure, there are examples of “mainstream” movies I might hesitate to try and explain to someone, but you’re not going to see Sharknado on the big screen – unfortunately – nine times out of ten.  I’ll admit this is something I like about Science Fiction as a whole: being thought-provoking while also having a fair amount of slack where narrative is concerned.  Maybe as a fan I’m biased and have missed this effect in other genres, so I won’t say as a blanket statement it’s the best, just something I’ve noticed as one who’s more keyed in here than I am, say, Rom Coms.

So the plot.  It’s the future.  Humans have done something to the world either through a war-based Armageddon or climate change – I don’t remember them out-right saying – where the earth is now a snow wasteland.  The only survivors are on a train, riding a line which circles the globe, pariah on the back end of the rails, upper-class near the front.  A revolution finally occurs, the lower caste having enough of the fear and the tough-hand of their supposed betters, and a group of fighters from the last cart make a push to reach the front.  The man who built the train is worshiped by the wealthy with a prophetic zeal.  I know the concept is not necessarily new, but there are a number of similarities to the Bioshock universe which, as a big fan of those, I was pleasantly surprised to see, knowing nothing of the story of Snow going in.  People familiar with Andrew Ryan (or even Comstock, though the setting felt more a Rapture than a Columbia) will feel right at home with Wilford and his train.

Each of the cars are a different world the closer you get toward the front: a garden, an aquarium, a set of nightclubs, and what appeared to be an upscale restaurant, each of these again echoing a city in the clouds or beneath the waves.  Even the dress of the citizens is exaggerated, at times plucked from a Victorian era, and others an Akira Neo Tokyo.  And Hunger Games.  Tilda Swinton’s Mason reminds me of what Effie will look like in another thirty years.

The action is well directed.  I’m a big advocate for directors just putting the camera down and leaving it be when the fighting starts, but the combat is the right blend, a mix of frantic and pulled-back, allowing for hand-held within the kinetic frays of battle before taking a step away to show the audience the conflict at large.  I dug too the use of light in many places, both as an atmospheric tool and a means of differentiating classes as the revolutionaries progressed further into the train.  Performances are good.  Chris Evans feels mostly like he’s playing a lesser boy-scout Captain America, which is fine, and he isn’t bad in any way.  Just the same.  John Hurt is a quieter Professor Broom which is also fine.  More than fine because I like him.  Come to think of it, there isn’t much negative to say about anyone.  While a handful of characters are over-the-top, you’re also dealing with an apocalypse train and an army of dudes who look like executioners from a time when the Black Plague was still a thing, so those over-the-top aren’t too out of place.  In an effort to further rationalize my tying of Snow to Bioshock, the executioners in their craze and fanaticism are decent substitutes for Splicers, though I prefer masquerade masks, if I’m choosing.

The world of Snowpiercer is an interesting one, and a universe I wouldn’t mind spending more time in.  It doesn’t have much need of a sequel, but if the material is as equally interesting and builds on some of the groundwork, I’d be in.  I’d be in anyhow, it’s just my level of complaint which would fluctuate.  Recommended.  One of the better science fiction flicks I’ve seen in a while, and one of the better action flicks too.  Even thinking of giving it a re-watch soon.  Maybe when we get our first real big snow here.  Try and make the experience an interactive one.