Evil (and impractically helmeted) King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) blames the gods for the death of his family and plots to free the Titans from Mount Tartarus so that they can destroy the gods. On the side of good is young Theseus (Henry Cavill) who, despite being the spat-upon bastard son of a peasant mother, is fated/groomed by Zeus himself (John Hurt when in disguise; otherwise, Luke Evans) to defeat Hyperion and save all mankind. Thus begins Immortals, director Tarsem’s (a.k.a. Tarsem Singh, Tarsem Dhandwar Singh, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar) long-in-the-making answer to Louis Leterrier’s rather unfortunate 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans.
Like Titans, the story involves the interactions between the Greek gods and mankind, a long and epic quest, much talk of loyalty and betrayal, lots of fighting, lots of CGI blood…in fact, the similarities between the two (and also 300, come to that), not only in subject matter but in look, style, and male body types, are very hard for any moviegoers to ignore. All of this is a bit disappointing for me, for even though Immortals is probably the best movie of the three, I personally was hoping for something a little more distinctive, a bit more special, especially taking into consideration Tarsem’s past work and filmmaking philosophy.
For one thing, for all of Tarsem’s previously stated concerns about effects and green screen vs. good location scouting and lots and lots of extras, this movie is disappointingly, and generically, CGI-heavy. With a slightly different approach to the story, there might have been a way to make the story a bit more grounded and “real world”, filmmaking-wise if not storywise – take what he does with the Minotaur scene, for example – that could have made the movie far less reliant on computer effects. This approach was not fated to be, however, which in my opinion is unfortunate for all of us. The costumes, thankfully, stay as real and as elaborate as in any of Tarsem’s previous movie, video and commercial work, but it’s hard to imagine the same man who, in The Fall, shot (without the use of computers or green screen) both a horse hanging off of a bridge and the underside of a swimming elephant could not hear manage a simple shot of a flying hawk. Of course, had he stayed the course, we probably would have ended up with something a bit too much like The Fall – a stunning, arrestingly gorgeous movie that took four years to shoot, was paid for almost entirely out-of-pocket, and in the end was seen by all of maybe 12 people in theatres.
For such an action-and-effects-heavy movie, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the performances of most of the principal cast. Henry Cavill and Luke Evans, two actors I had previously known in name only, capably hold their own in their leads as Theseus and Zeus respectively. Mickey Rourke, in full scenery-chewing villain mode, proved both menacing and powerful. I also quite liked Freida Pinto (who is stunning) as the oracle priestess Phaedra and, surprise of surprises, Stephen Dorff (Stephen Dorff, out of the clear blue sky!) as Theseus’s reluctant partner Stavros.
As much as I enjoyed the characters, I could not help but be distracted by too many gaps in the story. Why is Aries (or was it Apollo? Heracles? Other than Poseidon, who held a trident, and Athena, the sole goddess shown, none of the other gods are distinguishable in any way, and to my recollection are not even named) punished so harshly for helping the mortals, while the arguably as-great-if-not-greater interference of Athena and especially Poseidon is let to slide? And what was the point of fighting so hard to defend the tunnel at the “great wall” at Mount Tartarus when the entrance to the chamber being defended was literally right beside Hyperion’s army’s entry point? This would be the equivalent of, after days of battle and bloodshed holding off the Persians at Thermopylae, discovering that there was a secret tunnel, leading straight to Athens, right next to the Persian camp all along.
Immortals climaxes with an epic, three-tiered battle (Athenians vs. Hyperion’s army / Theseus vs. Hyperion / gods vs. titans) that’s never quite made clear what any of the three layers have to do with the others, either storywise or characterwise (compare this to, say, the ending battles of Return of the Jedi) – would a defeat or victory by either side at any level have any effect on what’s happening above or below? It’s these sorts of questions that point to my main problem with Immortals – the movie is all vision and weak execution. But oh, what a vision it is – strong enough to earn from me a wish for a big paycheck for Tarsem so that he may now swiftly go back and make something truly interesting.
Posted on November 17, 2011, in Film Review and tagged Freida Pinto, Henry Cavill, Immortals, John Hurt, Luke Evans, Mickey Rourke, movie review, Stephen Doriff, Tarsem. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.