Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his first starring role in a feature film, plays Hercules, the legendary hero from ancient Greek mythology. Many other body building champions have assumed the role in several low budget European productions but none can compare to the awe inspiring epic that is “Hercules in New York”, a fascinating tale of friendship and loyalty, featuring tear jerking drama, tender romance, wonderful comedic moments and thrilling action to boot.
Hercules is fed up living on Mount Olympus and wants to get out and explore Earth below. However his father, Zeus, God of all Gods, flat out refuses to let him go, insisting that life on Earth is savage and not befitting of a son of a god. Never has the story of conflict between the outgoing, rebellious son and the strict father been captured so perfectly than in this film. Arnold’s dramatic exuberance yet subtle emotional performance in these key scenes really are something to behold. It is also worth pointing out that, while Zeus wants him to stay, one of his closest friends, Mercury, is happy for him and wants him to see the world. Now, Hercules realizes what he must leave behind and Arnold really has you believing that this is a major decision which will have a profound effect on his entire life. Hercules leaves for Earth and journeys from the skies of Olympus to our world. However, for every day that passes on Olympus, many years pass on Earth.
The world has moved on and nobody believes or has even heard of the famous Greek demi-god. When Hercules lands on Earth he finds himself on a fishing boat and is amazed that nobody on the entire ship is honored to meet this amazing warrior. His ignorance is seen as arrogance in the fishermen’s eyes and soon finds himself in trouble. Here we have another classic “fish out of water” situation which is given a remarkable treatment, once again by Arnold. It’s certainly funny but the subtle tenderness of the lead’s performance also shines through. It’s not his fault nobody has heard of him. He has been away too long and all he is trying to do is get a clear understanding of how Earth life is. The ship docks in New York and Hercules is attacked by the angry fishermen. Hercules means no harm but when it’s time to fight, nobody can stop him. Here we see another side of our hero. Not only is he curious and ambitious with a strong emotional side but he is also very brave and never afraid to fight when attacked. He fight’s with such grace and never does he seem ferocious or even violent. This fight is seen by a wandering pretzel salesman named “Pretzy” and he is amazed at the strength of this stranger.
This man could make him a fortune! He makes friends with Hercules and offers to show him what the athletes of his city are like. It is interesting to point out that although Pretzy sees a goldmine in Hercules, he actually wants to become friends with this mysterious giant. This is well acted out by Arnold Stang. And Hercules himself is glad of a friendly guide to help explain the ways of this big and noisy city. Yet another classic moral is shown here and is, once again, handled beautifully. Approaching something with fear and ignorance never pays. It teaches that accepting those that are different with warmth and understanding is the best way for people to get along. Hercules and Pretzy visit a collage campus and look at the athlete’s training. Though they impress Pretzy, Hercules scoffs at their abilities and shows him and the campus coach his outstanding, superhuman abilities. The coach is so impressed he takes him home to meet his daughter and it isn’t long before a romance sparks.
For most actors, this kind of fast paced character developments and story arcs would be difficult to manage yet Arnold pulls it off like a pro. It’s hard to imagine that this emotional roller-coaster is coming from a man who has never carried a movie by himself before. Of course there are many other challenges our hero must face. How will he live in a city that is so different to his normal lifestyle? Will Pretzy make loads of money from entering him in bodybuilding and wrestling contests? Will their friendship survive as Hercules contniues his romance with his wonderful new girlfriend? And what of Zeus and the wrath of the Gods? Hercules must face all these challenges and more in what one can only describe as a tremendous exhibition of storytelling and film making. This movie is one of a kind. There is no other film like it and really has to be seen to be believed!
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