The iconic character of Hercules has gone through may incarnations in the film industry, including an animated take by Disney. Few have been quite as anticipated as the summer 2014 version that is simply titled “Hercules” starring Dwayne Johnson in the title role. The film spans several years of Hercules’ life and features an appearance by Megara, his wife and mother of his children. The role is played by model Irina Shayk, who is making her film debut.
The film is based upon the graphic novel “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” in which the demigod and son of Zeus must fight in several battles, not the least of which is with his own demons. In fact, the specter of his past is why Megara is in the movie as much as she is. The second official trailer features her quite a bit, and midway through, the voice-over announces (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the second trailer) that she and her three children are dead, and Hercules is haunted by this because he believes that he is the one who killed them.
Despite the fact that Megara is dead, the film features several scenes that include her in order to establish the love that Hercules felt for her, making his mourning throughout the film that much more believable. In order to really sell how world-weary Hercules is after her death, the relationship must feel real. It must feel as if there were true passion between the two. Without that passion, the audience would likely not believe that Hercules could give everything up and become so despondent over her loss.
The good news is that Johnson and Shayk are completely believable together. The two actors have great chemistry and make quite a handsome couple. Their three children are as cute as one would expect the progeny of such good looking people to be. There is one particular scene during which Megara welcomes Hercules home from a long battle, having not seen him in quite some time. They look just like a couple who is madly in love and has just spent months apart. There is a loving and completely respectful tone to their interactions that is expected of a long-married couple.
The writers and producers could have easily gone in another direction due to the fact that this was an arranged marriage. According to legend, Hercules was given Megara’s hand in marriage as a prize of sorts for a previous feat. A marriage like this could easily be cold and unloving as if it were two strangers going through the motions of being married. Instead, their marriage is shown to be passionate, with Johnson and Shayk really selling just how much these two are connected and care about one another.
That makes it all the more heartbreaking when one night, Hercules, believed to be under the influence of an evil god, murders Megara and all three of their children. He is now alone in the world, and it is heartbreaking for everyone watching. The heartbreak would not be quite as palpable if Johnson and Shayk did not make a good couple together on screen.
Hercules decides to live his life as a mere mortal after her death, unable to forgive himself for his responsibility in their demise, even though he was under a spell at the time. He holds himself culpable and becomes a sword for hire, taking on seemingly un-winnable battles as if he has a death wish. Because he is Hercules, he still wins, even on the toughest battlefields, but he imagines Megara watching him, which makes him sad when he should be happy about his victories.
Shayk was previously a fashion model, and the only acting she has done before “Hercules” was voice work in a video game. This time, she had to have screen presence, which isn’t easy for a woman to accomplish in an action film with a larger-than-life man at the center. She holds her own, which just makes her chemistry with Johnson more enjoyable and her untimely death feel all the more momentous.
“Hercules” is directed by Brett Ratner, who has previously helmed “Rush Hour” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Besides Johnson and Shayk, it also stars Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, and Joseph Fiennes. It was released on July 25, 2014.