– Summary –
Director : Tarsem Singh
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans, Steve Byers, Kellan Lutz, Stephen Dorff, Joseph Morgan, Isabel Lucas, Corey Sevier, John Hurt.
Approx Running Time : 110 Minutes
Synopsis: Theseus, the bastard son of a raped woman living in Ancient Greece’s Hellenus region, takes up arms against the warring King Hyperion, who plans to unleash the imprisoned Titan’s from Mount Tartarus and take on the Gods themselves.
What we think : This bizarre mix of 300, Wrath of The Titans and a perfume commercial, Immortals rates as one of the confused films I’ve had the pleasure of watching in the last 12 months. Featuring an overabundance of story material, a lack of focus against the backdrop of impending war, and the depressing landscape of 10th Century BC Greece, Immortals strives for capturing the myth and can’t. Stylishly told, sure, and featuring an impressive cast, but undone by Tarsem’s singular drive to make everything look like a postcard, I was more impressed with what they achieved in this film than the film itself, leaving me cold to the story and to the characters.
In recent times, audiences have had their fill of the world of Ancient Greece – from the Titans franchise starring Sam Worthington and that damned Kraken, to 300 and Gerard Butler’s Spartan warcry, the life and times of the ancient Mediterranean has been well pillaged on cinema screens of late, and Immortals is no different. While the marketing material for this film screams about how the producers also made 300, the disappointing thing about the film is that it comes across as a diet cola version of that masterpiece. There’s blood, gore and battles galore, as well as eerie creatures of pain and agony, while Gods lounge about on Mt Olympus like a family on holiday from life; visually the film is terrific, but it’s the story and the overall….. tone of the movie that just seems clumsily handled. Immortals isn’t badly made, not in the least, it’s just that it feels too convoluted and too produced for its own good.
Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant living in Hellenos around 1000 BC, is forced to feel from his village as the advancing army of the terrible King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) travels the land seeking the Virgin Oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), using her gift of foresight to locate the famed Epirus Bow, a weapon the king wants to use to take over the world and unleash the Titans. The Titans were once immortals like the Gos themselves, although they “lost” in the war against the likes of Zeus, Apollo and the rest, consigned to eternity imprisoned beneath the bowels of Mount Tartarus, their Earthbound prison. When his mother is slain, Theseus takes up with thief and former slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and the recused Phaedra, locating the Epirus Bow himself and deciding to take on the armies of Hyperion at the gates of Tartarus. With the Gods refusing to intervene in human affairs, and the odds stacked against them, the Hellenic forces stare defeat right in the eyes, even when Hyperion manages to obtain the Epirus Bow for himself.
“From the producers of 300” the cover for this film screamed: as such, I expected a mindless bloodfest featuring the Hollywood-isation of a bunch of Ancient Greek myths and legends, a cobbling together of ideas and concepts that meet somewhere in the middle with the potential to be awesome, but will most likely suck. 300 notwithstanding, Ancient Greece has had a terrible time of it lately, with both Clash Of The Titans and Wrath of The Titans doing little to heighten the literary profundity these mythical stories contain; it seems Hollywood has decided that the idea of Zeus sitting about chatting instead of throwing thunderbolts is a bad idea, so they unleash the Kraken and whatever multimillion-dollar visual effects they can to drag audiences into the cinema. Immortals, while a darn sight better than both Titan’s films combined, can’t climb the same mountain Zack Snyder did with 300, no matter how it tries. It’s not a bad film per se, nor is it lacking in some worthwhile ideas and performances, but the nasty tone and depressing world in which the film is set just alienate an audience keen to see some Zeus smackdowns and Titan-ic battles.
Initially, the film spends little time building its world: we’re straight into it, with flashbacks and multi-arc narratives bringing us up to speed with the relevant characters – Theseus is seen as an “undesirable” by his village, since he was the product of his mother’s rape, while Phaedra and her three guardian Oracles are captured by Hyperion’s forces; all the while watched by Zeus and the other Gods on Olympus, with Zeus constantly proclaiming that humans cannot be assisted by the Gods interfering in their lives… which seems strange considering the humans want the Gods to interfere, and is exactly what a deity is designed to do, right? The script is so convoluted you’re never quite sure what is going on – characters are only meat for the grinding, with seemingly only Henry Cavill’s Theseus and Phaedra surviving what is really a 300-style clone of a film. Director Taresm Singh, who gave us The Fall, The Cell, and more recently Mirror Mirror, has an eye for detail and usually delivers a decent film, but steps over the line into “more is too much” instead of “less is more”, with his sumptuous visuals never able to hold up under the crippling deficit of decent character development.
Theseus is the main character, and Cavill delivers a resolute, often intimidating performance (it’s little wonder Zack Snyder cast him as Superman in Man Of Steel) that, in the right directorial hands, could have been as good as – or better then – Gerard Butler’s essaying in 300. Theseus has, from what I can tell, few flaws: he’s a stand-up son, a terrific fighter (trained by “old man” John Hurt, no less, in a baffling role akin to Obi Wan Kenobi but with more of a hidden backstory) and a dedicated humanist. He thinks nothing of going into battle against Hyperion, although had his character been better developed, we might have understood his motivations a little better. Phaedra, played by Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto, is the eye-candy here, although Pinto seems listless amongst the sword-and-sandal type. Her performance is somewhat wooden as well, I thought, lacking a believability that might have given her relationship with Theseus more bite. Mickey Rourke chews through the scenery, the film, and even the screen as Hyperion, a nasty-pasty if ever there was one; he’s striving to be a lot like 300’s Xerxes, without the aristocratic air. Rourke seems out of place, although his physicality is really sweet to watch as he tears through the film like a hurricane. As a screen villain, he’s damn good. As a character in this film, well, he certainly raises the gambit.
The secondary cast, led by Stephen Dorff as Stavros, and Vampire Diaries star Joseph Morgan, are all but scaffolding in this production – they add little to the proceedings other than to be either comedy relief or cannon fodder for the battles, with each successive slaughtering the emotional weight of the film is reduced and reduced until you’re just numb to all that occurs. Luke Evans, who can’t seem to keep away from Greek Mythology after his role in Clash of The Titans, is Zeus, and although I know we’re not supposed to ever be able to understand the motivations of the Gods themselves, it might have helped this film is Zeus’s belligerence towards humanity was explained a little better. Aussie actress Isabel Lucas is nice to look at as Athena, and she kicks butt in the final battle sequences. Keep an eye out for Twilight franchise actor Kellan Lutz as Poseidon, a far cry from the older version played by Danny Huston in Wrath Of The Titans; it’s a small role, but causes a splash nonetheless.
As mentioned, the film is definitely visually stylish to the extreme. Colors diverge from browns and blacks to crisp whites and yellows, although there’s a layering of tan across the lens which keeps everything feeling somewhat depressing. Imagery is sharp, with Tarsem’s DOP, Brendan Galvin, really creating a certain look for the story and never deviating once from the brief. The camera seems only limited by the imagination of Tarsem, flying in and around landscapes and defying logic and reason wherever it “looks coolest”, although the use of Zack Snyder’s “dolly tracking shot while the hero mows down countless enemies” reeks of poor creativity. I expected more from Tarsem than stealing outright another director’s visual style; I guess the producers had more to say than I wanted, in this regard. The use of visual effects ranges from excellent to disappointing. Some obvious green-screen shots look truly terrible: a moment when the Hellenic armies are gathered behind the Gates of Tartarus, and Cassander, the king of the Hellenics looks down upon the approaching army of Hyperion, to spot an envoy approaching, is amongst the worst visual effects in a major mainstream film in the last 3 years. Other visual effects looks astonishingly believable, and give credibility to the scope and scale of the production. Production design is equally superb, with Oscar winning costume designer, the late Eiko Ishoika, delivering yet another series of stunningly beautiful, ugly, and stylish character dresses that only serve to add to the precision of Tarsem’s film.
The fatal flaw with Immortals is its disconnect with the audience. It tries to be something it isn’t – another 300, really – and most audiences will see right through that ruse. The story is overly convoluted, the characters all wafer thin as people, and the action lurches into sub-par Zack Snyder territory before stumbling into an overly edited Ridley Scott style. While visual effects serve to create a world with ease, they do not – nor should they – form the foundation of any great film, although it seems Tarsem’s gone out of his way to give us a style-over-substance effort this time round. The script delivers dialogue like granite bricks, lacking any fluidity or realism that doesn’t feel like it’s the impending apocalypse with every pronouncement of doom and gloom; it’s a wearying film to listen to, as far as characters are concerned. I’m as much into mindless battles and fights as the next guy, but the swarming forces of the Bad Guys and the inevitable releasing of the Titans (I imagine that somebody, at some point, might have insisted a line of dialogue saying “Release the Titans” be included – thankfully, it wasn’t) becomes just a lot of white noise in the end. Modern audiences need somebody to connect with, somebody whom they can find an affinity for – and it’s unfortunate that Henry Cavill’s character is supposed to be that dude. Cavill isn’t bad – he’s by far the best performer in this thing – but his character lacks a warmth or a genuineness that allows us into his quest and emotional journey.
Immortals is a difficult film for me to dislike – I enjoyed the spectacle and the majority of the action sequences more or less rocked, but the lack of grace or subtlety in this film annoyed me. Whereas 300 had a humanity to it when it counted, Immortals doesn’t, and that’s the crucial difference. Visually, Immortals packs a punch, but it’s an empty one. If you’re a fan of 300, I guess you might take solace in the fact that it’s another bloody battle film, although it never even begins to approach the level of skill Snyder gave us with his sophomore effort; if you are looking for something more than just an action film with dramatic delusions of grandeur, you’re best served by avoiding this one. Immortals is a disappointment.