Mark Reviews Movies

Immortals

IMMORTALS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar

Cast: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Joseph Morgan, Anne Day-Jones, Greg Bryk, Alan Van Sprang, Isabel Lucas, Peter Stebbings

MPAA Rating: R (for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 11/11/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 11, 2011

There might be nothing new under the sun—and that statement also may apply even more when dealing with an adaptation of mythology—so it's important to appreciate the little details, like when the Greek god of the sun flies through a slab of rock and, to commemorate his demise, his mangled body, still fused to the stone, is laid out on courtyard of the gods' palace on Mount Olympus. If this image does not give one a fairly solid idea of how Immortals treats this material, then, honestly, nothing else will suffice.

It is not a film that cares about its characters, and, as much of detriment as that sounds, it is appropriate or, at least, forgivable in this instance. They are less human beings than they are living, marble statues of heroic or villainous deeds. We remember, for example, Theseus grasping the decapitated head of the Minotaur; everything else is really superfluous to our understanding of the legend. The humans in mythology, after all, are just the supporting cast to the soap opera of the gods, and it's only when the most daring examples of humanity in the stories act as or interact with gods that we pay them any mind.

Director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (also, oddly, listed simply as by his professional moniker Tarsem in the "a film by" credit) understands the necessity of grandeur in myth. Instead of concentrating on the particulars of the characters, he and production designer Tom Foden give them a majestic playground of ancient Greece in which to live, explore, and, above all else, fight to the grisly death.

This Theseus (Henry Cavill) and, indeed, most of the other characters have little to do with tradition. Here, he is the son of Aethra (Anne Day-Jones) and has no known father. An old man (John Hurt), who is actually Zeus (Luke Evans) in disguise, has taught him since his youth to fight and such important life lessons as not only how to use a sword but also when to draw it and that while deeds are important the right deeds are even more so. Charles and Vlas Parlapanides' screenplay is keen to insert such maxims in between the exchanges of not-too-distracting anachronistic dialogue.

Off at a monastery some unspecified distance away, the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, restraining from chewing the scenery by instead cracking and munching on walnuts) is searching for Phaedra (Freida Pinto), the virgin oracle whose gift of foresight depends entirely upon her chastity (This is important, only so that our hero can courageously free her of her curse of soothsaying). Phaedra, Hyperion believes, has the knowledge of the location of the Epirus Bow, which handily generates arrows made of light when the user draws back on the string. It also has the ability to free the Titans from their cell in Tartarus, where they are not only chained together but also connected by long, metal rods that they hold between their teeth. Tarsem's visual judgment ensures that, even before the script details who or what these characters are (It doesn't explain what sort of threat they pose, except that they have a desire to destroy the gods), we sense cruelty fermenting within them.

The story follows Theseus' quest to beat Hyperion to the mystical bow, stop the mad king's plan to bring devastation to humankind, and kill him. He obtains a few comrades in arms along the way, including Phaedra, the thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff), and a monk (Greg Bryk) who cuts off his tongue instead of giving any information to Hyperion. We anticipate this would only be a minor obstruction to Hyperion, who is so brutal that he scratches the face of a Greek deserter who wants to join the king's army before ensuring that such a treacherous coward will never breed through the judicious use of a sledgehammer.

Such violence is prevalent in the film; the battles are orgies of blood, lopped-off limbs, and gore, especially whenever the gods become involved. Apollo (Corey Sevier) uses his hammer to explode the skulls of some of Hyperion's men into pulp, and when the inexorable deus ex machina of a climactic battle between the gods and the Titans arrives, bodies are hacked horizontally and vertically. It is undeniably gratuitous, but one cannot criticize Tarsem for a lack of inventive ways to dispatch enemies or an inability to choreograph carnage.

The selling point, though, is the design, which is somehow ornate yet minimalist. Theseus' village, for example, is a modest series of homes built into a mountainside, and to the side, built out of the rock, is a lookout post that towers high into the air. Also massive is a marble wall barricading foes from Tartarus, and Hyperion's makeshift torture chamber contains a steel bull that houses his enemies as they roast above a flame. The costumes (by Eiko Ishioka) align characters into their classes, such as the gold of the gods (Helmets, using only lines, signify their role: Apollo's resembles sunrays, and Aries' (Daniel Sharman) is a twisting commotion) and the dark earth tones of Hyperion's soldiers.

The story might be routine and the characters void of much personality, but Tarsem knows the power of spectacle. Immortals more than compensates for the former with an excessive dose of the latter.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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