Last Wednesday was the day eager Filipino cinephiles, Hellenophiles and bandwagoners (of course) went to see Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Herakles, in a movie ironically named after the Roman (though admittedly, the more famous) version of said hero’s name: Hercules.
The cinema has had a long tradition of trying to depict ancient myths on the silver screen. From the pioneering efforts of Georges Méliès where oceanids cavort in Deux Cents Milles sous les mers ou le Cauchemar du pêcheur (1907) to Fritz Lang’s sweeping retelling of the tale of the Nibelungs (1924) to Roland Emmerich’s revisionist take on the ancient Egyptian pantheon in Stargate (1994) to Stan Lee’s famous fascination for Norse mythology culminating in his own canon for Thor (2011) and the Asgardians in comics and movies, mythology had consistently captivated the storyteller’s and the filmmaker’s imagination.
But none of them have had quite the lion’s share of airtime as ancient Greek mythology has. From Werner Herzog’s first film (which is an experimental short) Herakles (1962) to stop motion classics such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981) to Disney’s animated foray with Hercules (1997) to modern benchmarks like Troy (2004) to updates and spin-offs like the new Jason (2000), Clash (2010) and Wrath of the Titans (2012), Immortals (2011) and the kid-friendly Percy Jackson series (2010 & 2013), Greek mythology has always been – even to the point of redundancy – widely represented. So what’s the deal with this one then?
Well, it’s Dwayne The Rock Johnson as a demigod that did it for me; and finally not some oiled up Hollywood A-lister pretty boy. Sword-and-sandal movies have never been this gargantuan or in our faces since the last time a cast member or two of The Expendables wore a tunic in a film, Greco-Roman style. Sure, Dwayne’s not white, blonde or blue-eyed. But the man is incredibly beefed up and still is at the top of his game. I don’t know of a lot of other actors now who can go toe to toe with The Rock’s massive intensity and win over this beast of a man. Not even Pitt’s sexy Achilles. Which is why the role fits him like a glove. Herakles was the greatest Greek hero not because of his wit, godmode always on hack, prowess in sports or tactical genius. It was because he was the strongest and most passionate of all the supermen ancient Greece had the pleasure of conjuring up. Sure, it’s not a match made in heaven, but given how actors are nowadays, I feel a bit grateful that Dwayne went for this role and gave it such commitment not seen in films like these for quite a while now.
Let’s not forget that there’s also the wonderfully understated internalizing dialogue between the parallels that are Dwayne’s and Herakles’ legendary mixed lineages, personal feats and overwhelming influence and legacy in the worlds they live in. They both are “the myth and the man”, and are faced with the same internal conflicts and outside pressures and perspectives in societies that both view them as mere muscle-bound neanderthals who are incapable of empathy (or other higher faculties for that matter) simply because of how vastly different/superior they are physically from their contemporaries. That psychological common ground between the two probably gave this film the much needed credence it obviously lacked without a Dwayne Johnson to carry it on his very broad shoulders all by himself.
Will try to see it before it stops showing, and then find the time to write my final thoughts about it. I really feel like such a nerd right now, though. Oh well. 🙂
*Image credit: I got the awesome wallpaper from this page. Go visit and give some love if you liked it.