Written by: Daron Taylor, Special to CC2K
There were two things I was excited about going into this movie, the cast (including Superman-to-be Henry Cavill, John Hurt and Mickey Rourke) and director Tarsem Singh, whose The Fall was I thought the most sadly overlooked movie of the late ‘00s. Tarsem, who has a spectacular and singular visual sense, has a knack for creating the most nightmarish and beautiful, surreal visions (see his previous: The Cell and The Fall, respectively). While The Fall was shot completely without CGI (I challenge you to watch that movie and not say disbelieving, “no, really?”), the vast canvas that computer generated imagery can provide seems a better fit for the scale of Tarsem’s vision. In Immortals he brings us both nightmare and dream; a grand imagining of the battlefield of ancient Grecian gods and heroes.
Immortals loosely follows the classic tale of Theseus, who we know as the founder of Athens and slayer of the minotaur. The gravelly voice of John Hurt lays out the story so far: The titans, portrayed in this movie as creepy, quick-moving beast-people, were imprisoned in a golden cage in the heart of Mount Tartarus waiting to be released by an arrow from the Epirus Bow so they can do some damage to the Gods who put them there. Evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), driven by an unslakable thirst for bloody revenge, is searching for the Bow although it seems just an excuse for him to gleefully torture and murder anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. The Bow’s location can only be discovered by the beautiful seer Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who recognizes in Theseus (Henry Cavill) the favor of the Gods and the hero of Athens. Bound by an ancient and ridiculous law, the Gods cannot intervene in human affairs as long as the titans remain imprisoned. It is up to Theseus, Phaedra and their companion-by-chance Stavros (Stephen Dorff) to find the Bow, protect their people and save the Gods.
Through the course of the movie we are introduced to the Justice Leag- I mean the Avenge- I mean, the Gods. From the limited knowledge of ancient Greek mythology I gleaned from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys I identified the biggies: Zeus, Athena, Poseidon. But there were several B-Gods in the mix and other than Luke Evans as Zeus, the Olympians are pretty much interchangeable. Mickey Rourke, as Hyperion, stands out to me uniquely among this cast and not just because everyone else in the movie is chiseled from the hotness rock. Rourke is someone I’ve come to admire through Sin City and The Wrestler as someone completely fearless and probably more than a little bit crazy. Henry Cavill, himself cut like Adonis, is appropriately strong-chinned and heroic but little else. I suppose that will serve him well as Superman, I have always seen that character as being an unfortunately one-dimensional one-trick pony. Kind of like Theseus who, though brilliant at killing things that come at him, is not the best military tactician. I couldn’t help but think – so you have an enemy army of thousands on one side of the wall and the only way to get to you is through a narrow tunnel. Wouldn’t it make sense to pick them off at your leisure as they file through to your side instead of turning the tunnel into a giant meat grinder?
Grand lapses in judgment aside, those who liked 300 will certainly like Immortals. The comparisons are hard to miss; from the overly stylized color palette down to the nippled breastplates. And, like 300, the action is brutal and all in alternately extreme slow motion or blinding speed. Which generally tends to get on my nerves. However the speed in this movie is not senseless. When the action slows down it is so that you can take in every piece of action packed into the frame. When it speeds up, that’s when the audience goes, “duuuude!” In one scene, reminiscent of the famous hallway with a hammer scene from Oldboy, the camera pans slowly across the twisting bodies of the two clashing armies and fills every corner of the frame with magnificent brutality. Tarsem takes these scenes straight out of Carvaggio’s playbook (he has named the painter as a direct influence). Really, practically every frame of Immortals could be gathered together to make a genius coffee table book. Genius, and incredibly gruesome. There’s a significant amount of gore involved in fighting hand to hand combat that the movie doesn’t shy away from – yes, it revels in it. And there is one particularly brutal moment that had the crowd squirming for over a minute afterward. Tarsem builds up these agonizing moments before bloody release. For him and for the sadistic King Hyperion the tension before the cut (or smash or slash) is the most titillating.
The main criticism that I have heard for this movie tends to be its lack of a cohesive story, although it was straightforward enough for me. Theseus is a guy who can handle his spear, bad things happen to him and his challenge, like every hero’s challenge, is to become more than what he is – to become what he was born to be! (music swells). This movie is not about nuanced characters or witty word-play, it’s about the clash of characters. It is about the ideas of Zeus and Theseus and the Titans and everything you’ve ever heard or seen about those characters slamming into each other just to see the gravel, or the heads in this case, fly. People who go to see this movie will understand that, and so where is the criticism? I enjoyed it for the beauty of its imagery, despite the gore. My fiance, who saw the film with me, said: “Holy shit, my favorite part was when Zeus cut that guy in half with a chain!” So, you know, it has something for everyone.
Note: The 3D didn’t detract too much from the experience, but it didn’t add much either. Save yourself the extra cash and see it normal projection. Would you look at a Rubens or Bernini in 3D? You wont be missing much.