Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Joseph Morgan, Anne Day-Jones, Greg Bryk, Alan Van Sprang, Peter Stebbings, Daniel Sharman, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz, Steve Byers, Stephen McHattie, Matthew G. Taylor, Romano Orzari, Corey Sevier. Written by Charles & Vlas Parlapanides.
Immortals, a Greek mythology spectacle coming in the wake of 300 and Clash of the Titans, is a guilty pleasure. Very guilty. The narrative is incoherent and disconnected – it almost feels disinterested in the story it’s trying to tell – the characters are barely sketched, and the millennia-old mythology is thrown out the window as the screenwriters attempt to deliver something “better”.
But the spectacle is delivered. This is one of the best-looking films of the year, a glorious mixture of inventive visuals and perfectly-composed shots in which almost every frame of the film is as pretty as a picture. And the 3D – incredibly, as it was (mostly) a post-production conversion – is among the best I’ve seen, adding an extra dimension to Immortals’ memorable visual palate.
The striking visuals come courtesy of director Tarsem Singh, who previously made The Cell and The Fall and is perhaps more renowned as a commercial (Nike’s Good vs. Evil) and music video (R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion) director. I greatly admired his previous two features, which were derided by many as style over substance; Immortals may be the very definition of style over substance, and it’s easily the weakest of his features, but when the style is this visionary, I can’t help but be impressed.
The film starts out with some clunky exposition delivered by John Hurt: “Immortals, once thought incapable of death, discovered they had the power to kill one another.” Not so immortal, eh? Anyway, the defeated Gods, the Titans, are now imprisoned in Mount Tartarus by the Olympians, led by Zeus (Luke Goss, and, in human form, Hurt).
I had some trouble grasping the rules of the game. Gods seem to die during the film – are they banished to Tartarus upon “death”? What happens to a killed Titan? Or do they suffer or more literal death, and Tartarus only houses surviving prisoners? Regardless, the opening visuals inside Tartarus are dazzling: a metallic cube inside a giant cavern contains charred mutant-Gods lined up by their teeth, which are clenched to elongated parallel rods.
The Gods are mostly bystanders here, with Zeus and the other Olympians watching from the heavens, forbidden from interfering in human matters. Even when those human matters includes the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who has lost faith in the Gods and leads an army towards Tartarus, threatening to free the Titans and slaughtering anyone in his path.
The Gods have chosen a human to fight for them: Theseus, who you may remember as the Minotaur slayer and hero of the Six Entrances to the Underworld. Here, he must save an oracle (Frieda Pinto), recover the mystical Epirus bow, and lead an army against Hyperion. This isn’t the Theseus of lore, but he does get to fight a man dressed as a Minotaur in one of the film’s most memorable action sequence.
The script, by brothers Charles & Vlas Parlapanides, isn’t just a loose adaptation of classic Greek mythology, it throws the mythos out the window and is bound to perplex anyone who has preconceptions for these characters. Hyperion, Theseus, and others have so little resemblance to their classic characterizations that it’s a wonder they didn’t just give them different names to avoid confusion. Instead, the script shoehorns the characters into a formulaic plot that can only disappoint in comparison; the only saving grace is that story is so clearly an afterthought here.
Have I mentioned how good this film looks? With luminous costume design, super slow-motion cinematography, gratuitous CGI backdrops and effects (my only complaint: the CGI bloodletting, which doesn’t quite feel right), and striking 3D visuals, the images on display here will linger in the mind long after the story has been forgotten. I was even reminded of Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain during some sequences.
Bonus: a pulse-pounding, electro-infused score by Trevor Morris, which sends a jolt through the movie; attempting to make up for gaps in the narrative, it gets your blood pumping at just the right time.
Note: this is an extremely brutal film, with exploding and severed heads, slit throats, a severed tongue, and an intense sledgehammer-to-the-groin sequence.
Style over substance? Sure – but what style it is. I’ll take this kind of ambitious guilty pleasure over a Conan the Barbarian any day of the week.
Also opening: Vendeta (showtimes), a Czech drama starring Ondřej Vetchý and Oldřich Kaiser, directed by Miroslav Ondruš. Screening in Czech.