Beautifully violent imagery helps life up a pedestrian story
There are moments of beauty in the violence of Immortals, the new 3D fantasy film from director Tarsem Singh. As precisely choreographed swordplay strums out on the screen like a Rube Goldberg machine — everything neatly fitting into its place and setting up the next exciting step in the dance — there’s a serenity that slips out and nearly lulls the audience into a weirdly complacent peace. This is poetic violence done as fine art. And then somebody’s eviscerated or brain matter goes flying at the camera like the end result of a Gallagher punchline and Tarsem Singh flips the bird to any ideas of peacefulness or complacency and lets loose the dogs of war. Immortals is an overactive 13-year-old ripping pages out of the history book to make spit wads. It’s also kinda fun.
Immortals stars Henry Cavill as Theseus in a heavily stylized, spiritually combative take on Greek mythology. The film at once both embraces and plays down the fantastical by having the legendary gods of Mount Olympus on the periphery of the story yet humanizing some of the most classic Greek myths by removing monsters such as the Minotaur and replacing them with bondage freaks ripped from the mind of George Miller.
Theseus has been unknowingly trained his entire life by the gods to be the best example of humanity. Powerful with a spear, good hearted and smooth with the ladies, Theseus is Superman in sandals — only fitting considering the role of the Man of Steel is up next for Cavill. Theseus’ wisdom and might is put to the test when the cruel, mask-loving King Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke) cuts a warpath through Greece in search of a legendary weapon that will allow him to free the monstrous Titans — nasty earthen creatures buried under a mountain by the Greek gods.
Rourke is all hisses and growls in his portrayal as Hyperion. Through the use of throaty threats and piercing eyes (and a real sense of fashion when it comes to scarab shaped headgear), Hyperion makes a menacing villain. What is lacking in sharply defined motivation or any real characterization besides the kind that comes standard with every warlord with a scowl and a sword, Rourke makes up for with genuine menace. He’s a badass that doesn’t waste any time trying to rationalize his badassery. It says he needs to be nasty in the script and that’s all that matters for Rourke.
To combat Hyperion, Theseus is going to need weapons and he’s going to need friends. What he has is Stephen Dorff. As Stavros, a thief and former slave, Dorff is great as the little scamp with a six-pack of abs and a willing sword to lend to Theseus’ quest. Set in the role of comic relief but given nary a punchline, Dorff has little to work with but manages to wring out his role for all its worth — lending great backup vocals, so to speak, to Cavill’s charismatic frontman. Dorff knows his role in the movie and — when it comes time for him to slip into the background of the film — does so without muss or fuss.
Freida Pinto is the requisite love interest, an oracle whose power is removed rather quickly into the film. Stripped of a purpose, Pinto’s Phaedra is perhaps the most useless character in the movie but nobody told Pinto that. She gives the role a sense of regality and pomp that helps distract audiences from the fact that her character serves no purpose once the film gets rolling. Pinto’s intense beauty certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The real star of the film is Tarsem Singh. A visionary with a sense of grounded reality, Singh has not created a copycat of 300, though there are obvious examples that Immortals was influenced by Zack Snyder’s runaway hit. Immortals is much more organic in its feel thanks to Singh’s dusty sets and beautifully ornate costumes. If 300 felt like a video game come to life, Immortals feels like big budgeted Pageant of the Masters — where classic paintings are brought to live using community theater actors. Everything seems rehearsed and choreographed but there’s a weightiness in the action and a heft to the violence. There’s a lot of CGI, don’t be mistaken, but even that is handled with an eye for the anatomically correct. This is a beautiful Renaissance painting as filtered through a comic book artist’s hands. The classically inspired ethereal abstract is accounted for but a modern taste for the ultra violent gives the film a gleefully raucous tone that helps carry the movie through some of its more tedious plot points.
In fact, the script by Vlas and Charley Parlapandies is the film’s weakest spot. Moments where the film takes a post-modern approach to classic Greek myths are entertaining but the paint-by-numbers hero’s quest has been to death. What the film really needed was an off-kilter story to go with Singh’s marvelous imagery. What the film got instead was a very pretty package with a neatly wrapped bow that housed nothing but yesterday’s leftovers.
Director: Tarsem Singh Notable Cast: Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz, Freida Pinto and Mickey Rourke Writer(s): Vlas and Charley Parlapandides
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.