As Armond White writes: "In the new Hercules, a comic version of the Greek myth (adapted from a graphic novel by Steve Moore), The Rock stays solidly bemused but the film itself is torn—between genre panic and erotic guilt...By turning The Rock into a Greek god, it becomes a version of the myth that rings new changes even on Hollywood's unacknowledged Sword & Sandal sensuality.
Steve Reeves in Hollywood's first Hercules film in the 1950s.
"As The Rock maneuvers through the pretend-epic plot, he flexes actorly tone the way bodybuilders flex muscles. It’s a casually comic, occasionally hot, sight but the first Hercs—Steve Reeves, Mickey Hargitay, Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani)—all naturally had more stroke appeal," Armond White writes.
Pictured: Lou Ferrigno
"Later Hercs—including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Sorbo, and Paul Telfer—had less of that innocent sensuality; they were just unassuming—as were their lackluster films and TV shows," says White.
Ryan Gosling as Hercules’ younger self on the short-lived Fox Kids version of the epic, Young Hercules.
White states: "None of the previous Hercs had The Rock’s wall-of-man immensity—he’s an actor who doesn’t need 3D—plus he holds his own among this film’s roster of British thespian-mercenaries (John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Peter Mullan)."
Paul Telfer (left) of TV's Hercules & Steve Byers, of The Immortals
"The Rock’s mercurial, on-screen ease defines a more ordinary Herc—less superhero than a mundane figure from human antiquity (the Game of Thrones curse)," White explains. "The Rock wears Herc’s wolf’s-head hood and costume very well; not just a loin cloth, the look’s almost couture—better dialogue might have made it seem chic, like Pharrell’s Canadian Mounties Stetson hat."
The Rock’s performance in this film "represents an advance in masculine sexual iconography by including multiracial features, skin tones, and subtle ethnic echoes," states White. "This new Herc parallels Kellan Lutz’s blondined Herc in last spring's The Legend of Hercules, praised by critic John Demetry in his new book, Watch the Throne." Demetry notes the 'perverse core' of that, citing how it 'unfashionably conflates humility and power, masculine beauty and goodness'—a "far more serious endeavor than director Brett Ratner’s workmanlike action tropes with The Rock," White explains.
"A radically dressed Herc is part of a modern cultural adaptation signified by The Rock’s emergence from the world of wrestling into movies as an icon of black and Polynesian background," says White. Although this Hercules movie may be minor, "It is The Rock himself who, by taking on a role usually limited to European types, helps broaden awareness of gender icons and idealized figures of male sexuality."