Full disclosure: I studied Greek and Roman mythology when I was in college, so I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies. Now that you can take this review with the appropriate grain of salt, I liked Immortals. It certainly won’t end up anywhere near my favorites of the year list, but it’s a pretty fantastic union of a director with a unique visual style to a script that desperately needs the distraction of that style.
A fusion of stories from Greek mythology, Immortals follows Theseus (Henry Cavill), a young peasant chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans), and Phaedra (Freida Pinto), an oracle priestess, as they lead humans against the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his legions of warriors. Snubbed by the gods, Hyperion plans to take vengeance on them by releasing the Titans, the gods’ archenemies who have remained trapped in the earth following an epic battle years prior. But Hyperion needs the Epirus Bow, a legendary weapon capable of producing powerful arrows out of thin air, to accomplish his goal.
The movie is being sold as a companion piece to Zack Snyder’s 300, and it’s clear that the studio had a huge influence on those comparisons, even down to the story level. The two films share many of the same plot points: a traitor defecting to the opposing army, warriors wearing masks, cheesy speeches, and one sequence involving a tunnel near the end that’s ripped directly from Snyder’s breakout film. To its credit, though, I actually liked Immortals a lot more than 300. Most Greek myth stories probably feel familiar from a story perspective, and if most feel cliche these days, it’s because these old myths are the basis of western storytelling as we know it. We’ve seen these stories told before in thousands of variations in movies and television shows over the years, so it makes sense that the only way audiences will find them interesting is attaching visionary directors to give us a fresh look at the material.
For me, it comes down to performance. Mickey Rourke owns this movie as King Hyperion, relishing every line and squeezing every dramatic drop out of his twisted villainy on screen. It’s a much more interesting performance than Gerard Butler’s constant bellowing in 300, and Rourke alone gives Immortals a higher likelihood of rewatchability for me. I also prefer Tarsem’s grandiose symmetrical visuals to Snyder’s speed-ramping; Tarsem’s predilection for eastern imagery and fascinating production design – on full display in his fantastic second film, The Fall - seems to fit well with this kind of storytelling.
Speaking of Snyder, he’s got a new Superman movie coming up called Man of Steel, and cast none other than Henry Cavill as the lead. While this role doesn’t demand much of anything from him, aside from running around shirtless and throwing the occasional spear, I saw flashes of both Clark Kent and Superman in his performance. (As of this writing, we haven’t seen any trailers or footage from Snyder’s film, so my gut feeling is that Cavill is going to be a really good Superman in a pretty terrible Superman movie.) Getting back to Immortals, the gods, played by young 20-somethings with chiseled bodies, wear insane headgear that would make even Tim Burton do a double take. One piece in particular looks like the head of a dragonfly. Why would Tarsem do this? The only answer I can think of: “because he’s Tarsem.”
The fight sequences are clearly depicted through the use of Brendan Galvin’s impressive cinematography (he reunites with Tarsem for their upcoming Snow White film, Mirror, Mirror), and if my only complaint with the action that it gets a little overdone by the film’s ludicrous ending, then I’d say that’s a compliment. After all, no one comes to movies like this for the dialogue. (Though there are some interesting religious points touched on here about faith and belief that I found surprisingly well-handled for a movie that’s otherwise brash and borders on garish at times.) The score is influenced heavily, as most action films seem to be now, by Hans Zimmer’s work on Inception, with quick strings highlighted by bursts of booming brass.
Immortals is a fluff piece with almost no real weight to it, but it’s also a beautifully shot film that marries a visionary director to the perfect subject matter for his tastes. If nothing else, it will expose people to Cavill, an actor best-known for a small role in The Count of Monte Cristo and the Showtime series “The Tudors,” and get them ready to see him take flight as Superman in 2013. Until next time…