Hercules may look like just another swords-sandals-'n'-sorcery movie, but that's a clever bit of misdirection. There is precious little sorcery or godly magic here.
In fact, this may be the first Hercules movie to openly question the existence of Zeus.
Dwayne Johnson's version of Herc is a simple mercenary whose reputation has been deliberately enhanced by legend-spinners to suggest that he is the bastard offspring of a mortal woman and the all-powerful Zeus.
The legend is particularly embellished by Herc's nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a storyteller who functions less as a warrior and more of a personal publicist. (One expects him to whip out a smartphone and start texting press releases at any second.)
Without the propaganda, Hercules is just a successful soldier, surrounded by a loyal entourage of warriors including the soothsayer Amphiaurus (a very comic Ian McShane), the mute, feral Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the strapping Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and his knife-throwing BFF Autolycus (Rufus Sewell).
The beautiful Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), of the beleaguered Greek kingdom of Thrace, recruits Herc and pals to aid her frail father Lord Coys (John Hurt) to defeat a ruthless warlord in command of a platoon of centaurs. But instead of relying on Hercules's demi-god powers, the task will require training an unlikely army of farmers and non-warriors. During this time, Herc's tragic past is revealed, pertaining to the family he once had while in the employ of the sketchy king Eurystheus (an especially silly Joseph Fiennes).
In adapting Steve Moore's Radical Comics interpretation of the legend, director Brett Ratner doesn't overplay the atheism angle. He is, remember, a director not given to overly challenging material (Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3).
He is more interested in reviving the beefcake-warrior movie for a wider audience, without the R-rated boobs-and-bloodspray elements of 300. In that, he is largely successful. There is enough wit, action and spectacle here to pass as a modestly entertaining summer diversion.
The sincere Johnson is sufficiently pumped-up to make his more ridiculous feats of strength (including horse-tossing) seem not all that ridiculous.