Release Date: 25 July 2014
Rating:  PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity
Genre:  Action, Adventure
Run Time:  98 minutes
Director:  Brett Ratner
Actors:  Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane

Earlier this year, an epically bad version of this epic tale (The Legend of Hercules) set the bar for this particular story laughably low. Let’s just lay that waste of popcorn to rest, because this new Hercules is a completely different animal (and I’m not just talking about the lion our hero so famously slew with his bare hands). This time around we have a hero story that combines action, humor, and a nice moral lesson on consequences in a fun, action-packed film.

For those whose mythology may be a little rusty, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe Retaliation) is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Or is he? In this telling of the tale, Hercules’ fabled parentage is not the stuff that makes him a hero. As our story begins, Hercules has finished crossing the tasks off his famous to-do list (also known as “the labors of Hercules”), and taken to hiring himself out as a mercenary, hoping to make enough money to retire to the country.

It’s a package deal: Hercules comes with: Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), Hercules’ oldest friend and right-hand man. Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Hansel & Gretel), an Amazon warrior who wields her bow with deadly accuracy (and looks good in her little midriff-baring miniskirt outfit while doing it). Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a fearsome warrior who speaks volumes without saying a word. Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a storyteller whose many words help embellish the legend. Rounding out the group is Amphiaraus (Ian McShane, Jack the Giant Slayer), a man who “hears from the gods.” Not only does Amphiaraus get some of the best lines, at crucial moments McShane hams it up like a third-rate King Lear to delightful comic effect.

When their not-so-merry band takes up arms for Cotys (John Hurt) at the behest of his daughter (Rebecca Ferguson), Hercules & Co. have to turn a ragtag bunch of farmers into a fighting machine. And when they’re betrayed, they have to decide if they’re willing to take the money and run or stay to set things right.

This Hercules downplays the (lowercase “g”) god angle and focuses on what makes a hero a hero. There are several in this story; men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. Johnson’s Hercules in particular is a tortured soul, a man with tragedy in his past and little hope for a brighter future. In the end, his biggest battle is an internal one.

Speaking of fighting, there is a lot of it and it is beautifully choreographed. In the throes of mass carnage, the camera follows the action from one character to another but never loses sight of the story. Special effects are used to good advantage but not overused. Spears, swords, arrows, clubs, and pretty much anything else left lying around are put to good use. It’s violent but—it must be said—deeply satisfying in a primal way. For all the death and destruction portrayed, it’s not nearly as bloody as it might have been, although animals are among the fallen, so sensitive viewers take note.