Monday, November 28, 2011

New Release Review: Immortals (Tarsem Singh, 2011)

Before watching Immortals I was yet to experience a film by Tarsem Singh, director of The Cell and The Fall. It is my understanding that the latter has captured quite a cult following. His striking visual aesthetic is his signature – drenching the image with luscious photography, stunning colours, elaborate costumes and a costly blend of real sets and CGI design. But as for crafting a compelling and interesting story around the technical proficiency of his team, I don’t think he has quite mastered that skill yet.

The best way I can describe Immortals is as an excessive and camp film version of the God of War games. If you enjoyed the epic realm covered by Cronos’ story and the game’s often eye-opening brutality, then this offers up a similar adrenalin-charged atmosphere. The film is simultaneously gorgeous to look at (the visuals are astounding, though the 3D did dim the brightness of the image, and didn’t really add much to the experience) and ugly in it’s tone and content.

The plot is silly – a hodge-podge of elements from Greek mythology – but I believe loosely based on the stores of Thesus and the Mintoaur and Titanomachy. The Heraklion King of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), declares war on Olympus, following the God’s failure to answer his prayers to save his family from illness. He seeks to take over humanity by claiming the Epirus Bow – a powerful weapon created by Ares, the God of War – which he intends to use to release the banished Titans from Mount Tartarus.

With Zeus (Luke Evans) ordering his fellow Gods to remain unobtrusive in the outcome (at least until the Titans are unleashed), they lay their faith in the hands of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a mortal who has been groomed by Zeus himself (in the disguise of an old man played by John Hurt) to defend mankind for the Gods, should he accept the role. When Hyperion’s army sweeps through his town and kills his mother, Theseus is captured and put to slavery, but is now fueled by revenge. He befriends a fellow prisoner, Stravros (Stephen Dorff), and they join forces with Phaedra (Freida Pinto), a virgin oracle who possesses foreknowledge about the location of the Epirus Bow. Having discovered the Bow, Theseus leads his companions Mount Tartarus, soon to be under attack by King Hyperion’s army, in a desperate attempt to defend the land.

Singh is undoubtedly indebted to 300. One example is his utilization of the sideways tracking shot (and it is used several times) to capture Theseus slicing and dicing multiple foes in succession. I honestly preferred Immortals. The plot here does makes 300 look like a masterclass of writing, but Singh has outdone Snyder in his visual aesthetic and overall spectacle. The battle scenes are complex and well staged, there are evident stakes, and they are exciting – heightened by the effects-heavy use of slow-motion and CGI. There were times when I was simply in awe of what I was seeing. Theseus’ one-on-one battle with the ‘Minotaur’, who is actually just a very large man with a horned and barbwire-adorned helmet, was especially brutal.

On that note Immortals is excessively brutal on several occasions. Why the sledgehammer to the nether-regions of one individual, and the roasting of Phaedra’s sisters was necessary was beyond me. When Zeus and his clan of Gods come to Earth to confront the Titans, now released by Hyperion, it makes for the film’s most amazing sequence - one that makes 300 look like child’s play – and also it’s bloodiest. The Titans are taken down in an inventive array of methods. Their heads explode at contact with Zeus’ hammer; they are sliced completely in half, have limbs dismembered and find themselves splattered against the walls of Tartarus. At the same time, in an adjoining room, Theseus is battling Hyperion (pretty dull) and beneath them Tartarus’ armies are locked in a vicious battle with an overwhelmingly huge Heraklion army.

None of the performances are particularly notable, though the key cast can all be singled out for a variety of reasons. Freida Pinto, only required to be a pretty face, does her job just fine, while Henry Cavill as the rugged protagonist, Theseus, and Luke Evans as Zeus, give it their all and actually make their characters far more interesting than the writing allows. John Hurt supplied his incomparable voice for another narration, while Isabel Lucas (sporting perhaps the most ridiculous helmet – and that’s saying a lot in this film) could not have delivered a performance with less emotion or interest. Mickey Rourke’s intimidating stature made him an imposing physical presence – but his gravelly, unintelligible mumbling undermined his bloodthirsty status and he got served the worst of the dialogue.

Immortals has been made for a specific crowd – those willing to overlook a flimsy story with woeful dialogue and endure characters we don’t really care about – in favour of grand spectacle. This is a far better film than something like Clash of the Titans and I suspect visual effects junkies will marvel at some of the work here. I’m not one, and I did. But this film loses a bunch of points because it doesn’t really do anything else well. The film is memorable and worthy of a re-watch because of a few specific scenes, but linking it all together is a boring plot stifled by convention, over-indulgent use of inconsequential locales and silly costuming. In the end, it was better than I expected, and I can give it the smallest recommendation. If you have seen the trailer, you know if this film will work for you. If you don’t think it will, then there is little to justify paying the bloated 3D price, and a slim chance it might surprise you. If you think it will, you are likely to have a great time.

My Rating: ★★★ (C+)


  1. And this is from the guy who will direct that awful Mirror Mirror film. Man, that is such an awful trailer. I liked The Cell and thought The Fall was quite interesting. Still, I agree that he needs to create stronger stories.

  2. Man, Mirror Mirror might just be the worst trailer I saw this year - and I saw Jack and Jill. I haven't seen either of his earlier films, though I am intrigued by THE FALL and might check it out. He fills a niche in the market, but I will be wary of seeing any more of his film in future. Still, in IMMORTALS, there are some pretty awesome moments, though they are few and far between.

  3. I saw The Cell when it came out and thought it was kind of crap, to be honest. Tossing up whether or not to see The Fall when it appears here on DVD (or has it already? I did read it was coming out but can't recall when), which I know does have a cult following

  4. @ James - I think it is here. I saw the weird cover and David Fincher and Spike Jonze's names everywhere. I'll give it a shot - if only out of curiosity. You can skip IMMORTALS!

  5. It’s probably one of the best-looking films of the whole year (yet, I still haven’t seen Tree of Life) and the action is awesome and in-you-face which is something I always like. The story dragged on a bit and I couldn’t help but think that if the writing was a tweaked a little better, this would have definitely been a very solid film. Instead it was just fun and pretty to look at. Good review my dude Andy.

  6. It was pretty to look at, but with storytelling this weak, it just makes the film more forgettable than it should be. It's one of the best looking films of the year in terms of visual spectacle, and Tarsem does a greta job blending real sets with the CGI - but this really isn't all that great. Thanks for reading Dan.