Last week brought news that Brett Ratner, a director fans love to always come out swinging against, is in negotiations to finally bring to life a new film based on the mythological demigod Hercules for producer Avi Lerner and Millennium/Nu Image, the same outfit who are currently in post-production on a reboot of Conan the Barbarian. However, aside from Ratner's proposed involvement, there really wasn't a whole lot of information regarding precisely what kind of film the X-Men: The Last Stand director would be setting out to make.
After speaking to someone whose close to the project, however, we feel we can shed a bit of light on what kind of a Hercules film Lerner and Ratner are after.
Before understanding what direction Ratner would like to take Hercules, though, it's important to know what kind of state the project is currently in. Lerner has been trying to get the film off of the starting line since at least 2007 but, for reasons unknown, was never able to do just that. He did however hire screenwriter Sean Hood (who also worked on the shooting script for the Marcus Nispel-directed Conan) to write a film that Lerner could get made on a very small budget. Accordingly, Hood delivered a script that was completely free of large scale wars, creatures and thunderous Gods, which are probably the first three things one thinks of when they picture a Greek fantasy film.
Having read that script, I actually think the budget confinements were a benefit rather than a death sentence. In its current state, Hercules is an appropriately small-scale sword-and-sandals period piece that finds the titular epitome of strength, the exiled son of a great king, in a mostly human role of a man who people grow to treat like a hero simply because he's not as cruel as most around him. There are certainly hints that his real father may not be exactly earthbound, but for the most part his uncommon strength and superior combat skills are attributed to a hard life lived doing mostly hard labor in unsavory conditions.
That said, just because lower-budgeted Hercules' abilities are a bit less fantastical, that doesn't mean it makes for a boring script. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's regularly punctuated with moments that are designed to push Hercules to his limits as he goes up against several of the king's prized slaves, a few of which are even bigger than he. It also has a nice, plausible love-triangle at its core, but the centerpiece is certainly a steady stream of carnage. And I do mean carnage. There would be absolutely no way to make Hercules in its current state without earning a glorious R-rating. The character is, with few apologies, a ruthless badass.
As you can probably guess, though, that's bound to change if Ratner does sign on the dotted line. It's unclear if a new screenwriter would be brought in to drastically buff up the scale of the picture or if Hood would be retained, but whatever the scenario, Ratner will almost certainly not be making a low-budget Hercules. His goal is to add in the kind of spectacle people expect from a movie called Hercules, to erase the surprising level of realism the current script maintains and replace it with much more myth. There'd be no question as to Hercules' heritage, he'd be a bonafide demigod, the Greek equivalent of a superhero.
That's all a big if, of course. Nu Image isn't a studio exactly known for giving films the kind of budget Ratner would need to do a Hercules-as-a-superhero movie, but they certainly have been trending toward that side of Hollywood over the last few years, so I wouldn't rule it out on their involvement alone. Ratner certainly seems keen to put his stamp on a project like this - he was originally in talks for Conan and was at one point the leading contender for God of War - so one can assume that pushes Hercules a bit closer to the green light (and closer to a PG-13, which is the rating Ratner most often delivers).
Personally I wish that wasn't the case. Not because I hate Ratner, I'm largely indifferent to him, but because I'd actually much rather see the small-scale Hercules I read over anything else. The industry already has plenty of sword-and-sandals epics under its belt and in the pipeline. I think one that grounds the myths, that turns its back on massive creatures and typical fantasy tropes, would really stand out in that niche. That's just me, though. Only time will tell if producer Avi Lerner and Nu Image feel the same way.