‘I saw him look in the mirror, and that’s the moment he became Hercules’

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The legend of the Greek demigod who endures the ‘Twelve Labours’ (including slaying the Nemean Lion and the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra) is brought to life with overwhelming immediacy, in Brett Ratner’s latest film Hercules (released 25th July).

Whether viewed in 2D, 3D or IMAX, the pace of the film leaves audiences as breathless as the battle scene warriors themselves. This intensity makes it not only the ‘epic’ that it is, but enhances the tender moments of love and family that ultimately drive the film.

At Leicester Square’s Vue on 2nd July, the director and the cast gathered for the film’s first worldwide screening and Q&A. When Ratner was questioned on his ‘approach to storytelling’ for such a classic tale, he responded – ‘the demystification of the myth […] It’s a story everybody knows; how do we make that different, how do we make that contemporary and special – a Hercules for this generation?’

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (who undertook extensive training to achieve the phenomenal physique expected of the mystical warrior) is the ultimate 21st century Hercules. In a move away from his WWE persona, the actor’s latest role, fulfilling ‘a childhood dream’, is additionally perhaps the role to which he will become synonymous with. That said, Ratner did not overlook the role’s predecessors. He carried out ‘a lot of research on Steve Reeves’ (Hercules in Pietro Francisi’s 1958 film), in addition to ‘getting to know the graphic novel’. Whilst the director refreshingly establishes witty scenes that deceive the characters and audience, he revealed, ‘When Hercules accepts his faith and his fate… there are only so many ways you can shoot that. We embraced that.’

Something not to be overlooked is the mind-boggling scale of the sets, and the further fact that each one was built, not CGI-enhanced. While shot on location in Budapest, the actors reiterated in turn that they often wandered around towns built for the film, discovering new buildings and roads throughout the six month shoot. In revealing he wanted to take an ‘old school approach’ with the use of sets, Ratner’s decision certainly brings an impressive authenticity to the film, raising the discussion as to whether contemporary audiences have come full circle, abandoning the plasticity of CGI and demanding the new real to become once again – real. Earlier this year, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah contributed to this discussion when a life-size ark was constructed for the film using its ‘precise’ biblical measurements. (Additionally look to Spartacus (1960) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962))

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It is prevalent to also comment on the international cast, here; two in particular embody the film’s duality. Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal who portrays Atalanta – a fierce, resilient Amazonian, is not a woman in a man’s world but a warrior who puts the men to shame. Conversely, Russian model Irina Sheik, in her first screen role as Hercules’ wife Megara, to an applauded response, light-heartedly stated, ‘I felt like I was hired to be naked.’ Whilst the empowered representation of women therefore appears at times undermined, Hercules attempts in part to portray strength as a mental process, a trait not prescribed to gender. Consequently whilst the female characters do bring a sensuality to the film, Ratner insists that they can just as quickly abandon it – ‘When the battle starts there is no mercy’.

 

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