Immortals (United States, 2011)

November 12, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Immortals Poster

Immortals plays like the illegitimate offspring of 300 and Clash of the Titans, but while it represents a substantial improvement over the latter, it falls short of the former. As is typical of films directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell), a weak narrative is overshadowed by showy visuals. Immortals uses Greek mythology as a jumping-off point, but resemblances to the classic tales are fleeting. Charles & Vlas Parlapanides have crafted their own legend without being constrained by stories of the "real" Theseus or the "real" Olympians.

The underlying premise of Immortals is that, following a bloody war in which the Gods (led by Zeus) triumphed, the Titans were imprisoned deep beneath Mount Taratarus. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has lost his faith in the goodness of the Gods (they allowed his wife and child to perish) and wants to re-ignite the battle. To do so, he must obtain the Epirus Bow, which has long been lost to men and immortals. He seeks out the virgin oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto), believing she can "see" its location. Before Phaedra is delivered into his hands, however, she gains the protection of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a warrior who seeks revenge against Hyperion for killing his mother. Accompanied by the rogue Stavros (Stephen Dorff), Theseus and Phaedra quest for the bow to prevent Hyperion for obtaining it and releasing the titans. Meanwhile, Zeus (Luke Evans) and his fellow Olympians can merely look on, as they are constrained by a Gods' Prime Directive from acting directly to influence the lives of men.

Visually, with its artistic images of carnage (sometimes in slow motion), detailed settings, and over-the-top instances of machismo, Immortals strongly recalls 300, and one cannot imagine the synergy being anything other than intentional. Tarsem (who sometimes goes by that single moniker) has a more interesting sense of style (although he uses shadow and darkness) than Zack Snyder, but he never captures the explosion of lusty, bloody grandeur at the same visceral level. 300 provided a rush that Immortals strives for but never quite achieves. A rousing speech delivered by Theseus before a major battle recalls similar orations by Henry V and William Wallace but is delivered with the scenery-chewing gusto of Gerald Butler's King Leonidas.

Tarsem doesn't want viewers to pay close attention to the story, which is a flimsy means by which he can justify the orgy of carnage, the extravaganza of epic clashes, and the deconstruction of the gods and titans. The Olympians come across as all-too-human (with Zeus occasionally disguising himself as John Hurt) and the Titans look suspiciously like escapees from Peter Jackson's Mordor. Immortals is intended to be experienced on a level that doesn't require an excess of thought. To that end, the hero is well-muscled and manly (one has less difficulty associating Henry Cavill with Superman after seeing this), the leading lady is gorgeous (Freida Pinto has a face the camera loves - her other body parts, when exposed, belong to a body double), and the villain is detestable (Mickey Rourke is deliciously evil). Trevor Morris' insistent, throbbing score is perfectly fitted to the film's look. Immortals never ceases to radiate intensity.

The same hyperstylized, comic book-come-to-life approach that created an invigorating experience for viewers of 300 elevates Immortals above the level of a Clash of the Titans knock-off. The 3-D is better than what we have often seen, perhaps because of the high quotient of special effects that allows it to be more easily applied. The film is as faithful to Greek mythology as Thor is to tales of the Norse Gods, but it ultimately doesn't matter. Tarsem's goal is to give viewers an experience a little different from the norm and, to that end, he succeeds. The "wow!" factor is in full evidence and it provides a nice little burst of spectacle-tinted adrenaline at a time of year when cinema is typically more sedate.

Immortals (United States, 2011)

Director: Tarsem Singh
Cast: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt
Screenplay: Charles Parlapanides & Vlas Parlapanides
Cinematography: Brendan Galvin
Music: Trevor Morris
U.S. Distributor: Relativity Media
Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2011-11-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1