dir. Tarsem Singh
Release Date: Nov 11, 11
In the pantheon of visually-minded films without much substance to them, Immortals has to be one of the more lushly realized. It negotiates the sticky scenario of a sword-and-sandals story that feels not only familiar but outmoded with an aesthetic that keeps it fully watchable at every turn. Director Tarsem Singh (mercifully using his full name, at last) is known primarily for style; his underrated prior films The Cell and The Fall are far more memorable for a collection of indelible images than for the stories told within.
Immortals follows Theseus (Henry Cavill, soon to be Superman), a peasant living in a small seaside village. The corrupt King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has cut a bloody swath across the land, and the local armies want Theseus and his considerable combat talents to enlist. Theseus, however, would rather defend the honor of his pariah mother and keep to himself. Of course, the town is raided, Theseus is captured, and when a beautiful oracle (Freida Pinto) rescues him, Theseus’ path to legend begins. He’s flanked by a wisecracking Stephen Dorff as his right-hand man and the gods of Olympus, led by a morally conflicted Zeus (Luke Evans) who hopes that humanity can lead itself without divine intervention.
Perhaps Immortals is tasked with an uphill battle from the get-go. After all, we can practically recite the story beats from assumed memory: There’s a weapon that can kill the gods (to be fair, one of the cooler recent movie weapons), the humans will bicker, Hyperion will amass a huge army, Theseus will face him with a smaller but more desperate one and, oh, let’s throw in a sex scene with some tawdry slow-motion humping just to keep the proceedings running along. Cavill makes for an engaging Theseus, but the film doesn’t ask a great deal of him aside from looking cut from stone, which everyone onscreen does, and manages to present a more authoritative presence than Zeus. Rourke plays Hyperion right out of the John Malkovich school of paycheck villains, complete with unusual side quirks and an increasingly absurd collection of battle masks.
The real disappointment here is really Singh’s over-reliance on CGI. For The Fall three years ago, Singh traveled the world, covered by his primary gig as a commercial director, and found vistas of all kinds so stunning that they appeared fake, but weren’t. That film had a tactile appeal that Immortals seems to be missing; as fun as the stylized fighting is, particularly a duel between the gods and some unleashed creatures, there’s not a feeling that anything of particular merit is at stake, let alone the fate of the ancient world. Even the 3D, albeit quite good, adds little to the film’s questionable golden color palate. If nothing else, though, we can say that Immortals is what Clash of the Titans was supposed to be, and wears it well.