‘I am Hercules’ in 2014: rebooting and rationalizing a modern hero
2014 proved to be an exceptional year for Hercules with the release of three new movies starring the hero: two blockbusters, The Legend of Hercules (dir. Harlin) and Hercules (dir. Ratner), and a B-grade film, Hercules Reborn (dir. Lyon). Not only did these films signal a return to form for the popular mythic figure but, in doing so, reflected a subtle movement within Hercules’ filmic reception.
This chapter demonstrates how these three films each offer a rebooting of Hercules’ filmic-persona. While scholarship has explored these films’ continuity with past renditions of the hero, primarily regarding similarities in the exposition of the male body as often found in pepla, I will focus instead on how they break from tradition by presenting a rationalization of Hercules as an ordinary man. A large part of this rationalizing approach involves the questioning of Hercules’ identity: while each film arrives at a different conclusion regarding the hero’s true identity – e.g. The Legend of Hercules begins with Hercules ‘the man’ and concludes with the revelation of Hercules ‘the god’, while Hercules and Hercules Reborn do the opposite, moving from god to man – they all maintain the same conviction that their version presents the real Hercules to audiences.
Underpinning this rebooting and rationalizing model are particular contextual influences. These films seek to make the Hercules of myth confrom to contemporary standards of filmic heroism. On the one hand, such an endeavour is not unique to these films alone, given that there is a well-established trend within modern media towards the humanising of Hercules’ character. But there has been a recent shift in the general conception of heroic identity within popular culture – the ordinary, flawed, man who rises to the occasion – which has resulted in a remarkably different Hercules than those found in mythological sources or even within previous films. The emergence of this new style of heroism, in combination with Hercules’ hiatus on the big screen since the turn of the millennium, has thus created and allowed for a new ‘technique’ to emerge in the depiction of Hercules’ heroism. Hercules has now truly transitioned – i.e. has been rebooted – into a modern hero for the modern age