The Myth, the Legend… (Hercules, 2014)

Hercules_2014_PosterThe film begins by detailing the great legends of Hercules.  As a child he defeats snakes sent by a jealous Hera. He fought the Hydra.  He defeated the Erymanthian Boar.  The Nemean Lion.  We discover this is a tale being told to some pirates about to kill a young man. Hercules walks into the camp, and before the lead pirate’s eyes, dispatches his crew.  We the audience realize he is not doing it alone. Hiding among the camp are a skilled team. It turns out that Hercules has a bunch of super friends that help feed the legend of an unbeatable warrior. And they are really just mercenaries.

While celebrating their latest victory, they are approached by Ergenia, daughter of Lord Cotys. She is asking for help to protect their home from a local warlord and promises the team their weight in gold. After agreeing, Hercules and his Amazing Friends help Cotys defeat the Warlord.  But they soon find they may have aligned themselves with the wrong people.

Hard to believe there were two Hercules films in 2014, but here we are.  This film is all about playing with the myth.  The film never confirms whether Hercules is truly a demigod or if the gods are even real.  At the same time, it never truly denies it either.  In fact, the film pretty much ends on a “Who knows???” kind of note.

There is also a mystery, as rumors of Hercules having killed his own wife and children dog him.  He was cast out of the kingdom of King Eurystheus for this and it is what led to his life as a mercenary. All of this plays around with the idea of myths and legends versus “the Truth”. This is another “all new tale”, though it tries to supplant those old tales of Hercules as the true story we never new.

Based on a graphic novel, I am somewhat relieved it did not go the route of 300 or Sin City. Or even it’s competition, the Legend of Hercules.  The action scenes are not heavily stylized.

The film seems to be relying entirely on Johnson’s charisma to sell the film.  The actions sequences are competent, but not especially memorable.  The element of the fantastic is blunted by the attempt to be coy about it’s place in reality versus fantasy. Even the best characters rely on great actors giving stock performances.  This is especially true of Ian McShane’s Amphiaraus, the wise drunk.

This is certainly one of Ratner’s better films…but frankly, that is not saying much.  Nothing really saves this from being disappointing at best.

Irradiated Journals (Chernobyl Diaries, 2012)

Oren Peli made his name with the found footage genre-specifically the Paranormal Activity franchise. With the Chernobyl Diaries, he leaves found footage behind. First, the idea of setting your horror movie in Chernobyl is really a stroke of genius. If you have ever seen photographs from Chernobyl, you know there is a sad and haunted feel to them. To use a place that is so shrouded in an unknown quality (mainly since it is uninhabitable) is a terrific notion for a scary film.

chernobyl_diaries_posterThe Chernobyl Diaries is about three young adults visiting a friend living in Russia.  He convinces them to take a specialty tour of Chernobyl.  Along with another tourist couple, they are taken by Uri (an ex-Russian Military special forces) to wander around Chernobyl.  The deal seems a bit shady, as Chernobyl is not open to tourists for pretty damn good reasons.

Uri plays a practical joke at the edge of a small creek, before they find a strange looking fish lying dead on the ground.  Uri had made a comment earlier in the film that nature was reclaiming the land and it starts to look like this is very true.

Uri leads the group around  to various buildings, ever conscious of radiation via a small detector.  As the day starts to draw to a close the group returns to Yuri’s van.  They discover the fan’s engine is destroyed.  As it grows darker, they start hearing strange noises coming from the buildings.  Uri goes outside with a gun, and after hearing gunfire, two of the young men rush after him.  They soon return, one of the young men wounded from an attack by rabid wild dogs.    However, dogs are not the primary threat.  The friends are not alone.  When the sun rises, they decide to try and make their way to the nearest checkpoint to get help.  They leave behind their wounded friend and his girlfriend.

As they try to find Uri, they slip deeper inside the buildings.  Eventually they discover Uri’s remains and find themselves on the run from something else.  They start losing light and return to the van to find it it completely totaled.  They find that a video camera is still running and watch the footage.  Something has taken their friends.  They hear screams, so the survivors run towards the noise.  They find the girlfriend, and the chase begins.  It turns out that Chernobyl was not abandoned overnight after all.  Some people stayed behind and became mutant hillbilly cannibals.

And that is where it just starts to fall apart.  It turns out that they were inside one of the reactors, causing the leads to rapidly fall ill with radiation poisoning.  How have these mutants survived so long apparently living in the reactors and apartments nearby?  And cannibal mutants?  Hasn’t that idea pretty much been rammed into the ground?  The sense of mystery seemed loss.  It would have been more interesting had the mutations been something other than diseased humans.

It is also a bit hard to follow, at times you would think you were watching a found footage film in the jerky camera moves where it seems like the cameraman is rushing to catch up with the characters.  It certainly has it’s entertaining moments (Uri is a fun character) but the story becomes less compelling as you start to know more of what is happening.

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