Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if the immortal can die? That’s the case in Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, the latest bastardisation of classical Greek mythology to hit the big screens. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that however, and it’s always great to see a fresh take on old tales so long as it is, actually, fresh. And thus the issue: Immortals’ story is as generic and flat as they come. Here is a film populated by plot devices rather than characters, where bored is to be mistaken for stoic and where shameless sex and sideboob are signs of the strongest love.
The plot is… familiar. You have a hero who turns out to be a demigod (half man, half god), who must protect a damsel in distress and stop an evil force from unleashing the Titans. Along the way the hero is joined by an assortment of blokey characters, and even receives some oblique help from the Gods (do they ever not work in mysterious ways?). You’re forgiven for thinking that you’ve just read the synopsis to last year’s stinker Clash of the Titans.
Henry Cavill (the future Superman in the upcoming Man of Steel) is Theseus, a peasant who might as well be the ancient Greek Superman. He’s super strong, has chiselled abs and is utterly, hopelessly bland – a veritable patchwork of generic hero qualities and traits. John Hurt does his old man thing as Theseus’ mentor, also providing the requisite cheesy voiceover (only rivalled by Morgan Freeman in Conan the Barbarian).
As it goes, Theseus must stop King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from finding the powerful Epirus Bow and using it to free the Titans who were sealed within Mount Tartarus by the Gods. For the purposes of the film, the Titans are evil Gods – and only an ‘immortal’ can kill one of its own kind. Freida Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is an Oracle who knows the location of the bow, and Theseus is tasked with keeping her safe and stopping Hyperion’s schemes.
And it’s Rourke as Hyperion who gives the standout performance. Every time he was on screen he commanded my attention, though that might be because everyone else were so bad in their cardboard cutout roles that I was glad for any scraps of ‘good’ that were thrown to me. It’s actually kind of hilarious how needlessly evil Hyperion is. It got to a point when it seemed like he couldn’t have a civil conversation without killing someone. We get it – he’s the bad guy. How strange to think that Rourke complained about his role as the villain in Iron Man 2 being one-dimensional when Hyperion is just as one-note.
Ah… but I wasn’t really expecting a great plot in Immortals to begin with. Instead, Singh is known for his visually creative films such as The Cell and The Fall, and since Immortals had been touted as being ‘from the producers of 300’ it seemed safe to expect impressive sets, costumes and art direction. Right?
Wrong! Instead, we’re greeted by Gods with ridiculous headgear and Oracles adorned with gaudy red lampshades on their heads. Some of the costumes are downright laughable. In fact, almost any time Ares or Poseidon appeared there was uncomfortable, awkward laughter that rippled throughout the audience. Perhaps it was contagious but I just couldn’t take these scenes seriously. Why does Ares have a grill on his head and why is Poseidon wearing the latest in bra x Leia Organa hair bun fusion technology? Bleh.
It’s all too fake and feels like someone was trying to replicate the look of 300 but without the budget and without the know-how to tell when enough was enough. It reaches a point when it all becomes too much, crossing the line into self-parody where it stops being a creative art direction and starts being a barrier to what little story there is.
Even the action suffers, and no amount of derivative Braveheart speeches could get me excited towards the climactic finale. It’s a shame then that the one exception is the climactic fight, which was filmed in a way that I hadn’t seen before and was actually pretty good. Still, it was an hour too late and I was practically aching for the film to end.
It doesn’t help that Immortals subscribes to the slow-mo styling of 300, which I was never a big fan of (it’s cool the first time you see it). It’s also all pretty gory but, unlike this year’s Conan, a lot of it reminded me of the hyper-violent God of War series of video games (which I’m also not a fan of). This might be a good thing for some but it just felt needlessly self-indulgent and actually turned me off of a lot of scenes.
I was ready to enjoy Immortals but the movie never even gave me a chance. Even the ending, which set up an unnecessary sequel, left a bad taste in my mouth. From the plot to the acting to the visuals to the action, everything it did seemed to rub me the wrong way. Ultimately, Immortals felt like an amateurish, low-budget imitation of 300 that was far too self-indulgent for its own good; there comes a point at which you need to rein it in. Immortals doesn’t, and the result is a horrible, ugly film and one of my most unpleasant viewing experiences so far this year.