Reviewing a Tarsem Singh film is always an interesting prospect as he creates incredible, visually enthralling movies, that are oddly paced, and usually have a harsh and/or violent edge to them that makes them difficult to access. Immortals is no different.
First thing first, this movie was obviously marketed very hard at people who enjoyed 300 – the “From the Producers of 300” tagline was almost as large as the title on the first one-sheet posters. I feel it could have done without that marketing, it was unavoidable due to the massive success of 300, but a Tarsem movie would really benefit from people not having that expectation. In fact I’m not surprised to learn that Tarsem tried to fight this comparison. But such is Hollywood.
I’m not going to compare Immortals to 300, I’m going to relate it to Tarsem’s previous two movies The Fall and The Cell, as well as on its own merits. Happily there’s plenty to talk about. The film is a visual treat – and I’m not just referring to a constantly half naked Henry Cavill (Theseus) or Luke Evans (Zeus)… Greek mythology is often a great treasure trove of complex or entertaining narratives, and it turns out that this borrows here, there, and everywhere from the Greek canon, perhaps a little too freely.
Tarsem creates overly elaborate set pieces, fights break out in villages carved out of ocean cliff tops, overly elaborate temples, a plethora of marble stairs or hallways, and all manner of other CGI creations. The principle cast are gorgeous, the Gods have been chosen because they are stunning actors (visually if not otherwise), Freida Pinto (who I recently reviewed in Trishna) plays the oracle Pheadra and I’ve already mentioned Cavill as the lead character of Theseus. Micky Rourke (who’s fantastic, but perhaps not a ‘looker’) is thrown in there as King Hyperion, the antagonist, but it’s OK he mostly acts from the shadows or wears a mask with lobster claws on top – something that given the wildly eccentric costume design seems perfectly natural.
And here is where we hit on the crux of the movie, it’s so visual and action centric that I can barely remember what actually happens. Hyperion is the antagonist, seemingly just wanting chaos and destruction by unleashing the Titans to fight the Gods of Olympus. Theseus is apparently the only one who goes to the gym enough to stand a chance of defeating him – it helps that Zeus has been hanging around in the body of John Hurt most of his life guiding him and presumably being his spotter on the bench-press.
So are visuals enough? I really enjoyed Tarsem’s The Fall because it was ludicrously surreal and also about tricking a girl into supplying the main character with morphine. The Cell, whilst featuring Jennifer Lopez in what was sadly not her first or last attempt at ‘acting’, was again marvellously eccentric; it was Salvador Dali meets Silence of the Lambs. Immortals has that visuality, if in slightly more muted colours (a move that screams of the aforementioned Producers’ desire to allude to a certain box office smash), but I didn’t enjoy the story half as much as his previous two movies.
Also, as built as Cavill is, he isn’t strong enough as an actor to carry the role of Theseus. There’s a cringe-worthy sequence where he ‘pumps up’ his army before battle that, if I watch the film again, will have to be skipped in future. But it’s followed directly by an amazing action sequence where he spears an enemy then snaps the spear to use again and repeats until the spear is a splinter. The Gods giveth and taketh away.
There’s a love scene between Theseus and Pheadra that probably only exists to offset the homo-erotic tension of having a cast of gym bunnies run around with barely anything on. There’s some fantastic slow-mo fighting action, an ability that thankfully is reserved for the Gods for once. And then there’s a marvellously ambiguous ending with a battle with hundreds of thousands of combatants floating in the sky. It looks and sounds like Tarsem for sure but I would have liked a bit more focus.
6 out of 10 – Beautiful, but just a demigod after all.
Immortals is available from March 5 on Blu-ray/DVD.