Is director Tarsem Singh’s Immortals good enough to earn a place in the pantheon of great mythical epic movies? Sadly not, Duncan writes…
2011 hasn’t been the greatest year for me in terms of some of the films I'd been really looking forward to. It kicked off with the double disappointment of Nic Cage starrers Season Of The Witch and Drive Angry 3D. Jason Statham then failed to brighten things up in Killer Elite.
And then there’s Immortals, which is arguably the worst of them all.
I adore my period sword movies, whether they happen to be mythical, historical or surrounded by sorcery, having taken great delight this year in the mega-violence of Ironclad and the 80s insanity of Conan The Barbarian.
Immortals had been on my radar for some time, though, although I’m sure when I initially started looking into the film a good year or so ago, that the cast list was somewhat more impressive. Anyway, as I settled down to watch it, my hopes were high.
The film starts with the usual voice over exposition, this time courtesy of the great John Hurt, as we’re told about the war between gods and Titans. Then suddenly, there are loud noises. Very loud noises. There's some nonsensical imagery, and Mickey Rourke is shouting too. Thankfully things then calm down, especially with John Hurt appears, as we’re introduced to mother’s boy Theseus (Henry Cavill) who, it turns out, is rather good with a sword.
Sure enough, his fighting ability is soon put to the test, when Rourke (playing Hyperion) comes to town, resulting in the first and last exciting scene the film has to offer, as a rage-fuelled Theseus violently mows his way through a sizeable amount of evil minions until he’s stopped. At which point the film spirals rapidly downhill.
It’s always a strange sensation when you’re watching a film that you really want to love, only to see it slip piece by piece into an unbelievably awful mess. On the upside, it at least proves to be one of the most unintentionally hysterical movies I’ve seen in a while, with the laughs starting in earnest after a mumbling Rourke sets about cutting off a coward's bloodline by applying a comically large hammer to an unfortunate man's trouser region.
The film’s intention seems to be to show a shocking and brutal act, but the ripe theatrics cause quite the opposite reaction. It’s one of Immortals main problems – every element of it seems to play out like a parody, yet its po-faced delivery tells you it was aiming to be serious.
For some reason, director Tarsem Singh decided it would be a good idea to have the gods of Olympus played by young pretty actors, a decision which immediately robs their characters of the requisite gravitas. Luke Evans (as Zeus) acting fatherly to Cavill, who’s only a few years younger than him, just doesn’t work. Things are made worse still by the outlandish costume designs, as the gods are seen lounging about with what look like Christmas tree decorations around their heads, as if they were awaiting a poor man’s Jean Paul Gaultier photo shoot.
Camp doesn’t even begin to describe the aesthetic, which feels almost awkwardly forced, especially given that ancient Greece was homoerotic enough (just read the Iliad and look at the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus), making for an artistic statement completely out of place within the film’s narrative.
It’s frustrating that very few movies that feature the Greek gods ever seem to get their depiction right. The original Clash Of The Titans’ togas and neon effect still holds up better than Immortals, with the Titans remake even going too far. Arguably the best depiction in recent times was in Disney’s Hercules, but then James Woods does tend to make every film automatically better.
I’ve only seen parts of Singh’s The Cell (back when the film career of Jennifer Lopez looked so promising), yet he still seems to be using the same kind of visual gimmickry (flickering backgrounds that vanish, random cuts) which now feel painfully outdated and, again, have no place in the film itself. Add to this an incoherent narrative, a total inconsistency in both style and tone, and Singh’s touch seems to have resulted in one big, garbled, pretentious wreck.
Immortals can’t even be defended for its accuracy or loyalty either, as Theseus’ origins and journey bear no relation to the fantastic original tale. His parentage is wrong, there’s no Ariadne, and at one point, there’s even a glimmer of hope that Theseus will at least face off against a Minotaur. But when Hyperion grumbles, “Release the beast”, he actually means a big man in a metal bull mask. Again, no explanation is made as to why the film has chosen to make a more contemporary and logical twist to the tale, given that the gods are still whizzing about.
The dubious words “From the producers of 300” are slapped all over the poster, but all that seems to equate to is a below-par attempt to make all the scenery out of CGI, leaving a heightened sense of detachment from any scene, rather than the likes of 300 and Sin City, which were at least consistently over-stylised.
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about the background artistry in Immortals, as the film is presented in 3D. Well, that’s what it alleges to be, but I can categorically tell you that I watched 90 per cent of the film without wearing my 3D glasses, and all the foreground action was in clear 2D.
The only hint of 3D came when the background layer of the film went blurry occasionally, but there were no effects as such: the glasses just made the backgrounds clearer. I can only assume the low level attempt to add 3D has two intentions: to hide the awful CGI during the finale (which in itself didn’t make sense), and to make a quick cash grab from the initial opening weekend, before word spreads that the film is terrible, and also not really in 3D.
Stephen Dorff (who doesn’t seem to have aged in years) gives Immortals some much needed intentional comic relief, while getting some deserved big screen publicity, but he’s criminally underused. The whole film feels like a wasted opportunity, which promised so much and delivered nothing.
It’s a great shame, as Henry Cavill makes for a strong classical hero, and is without doubt the film’s greatest asset. His fight scenes are also among the only real highpoints, although they may have proved of more interest when trying to visualise him in a red cape, as I confess to examining his performance ahead of his role as Superman.
I never like decimating a film that I set out to love, but the total and utter failure to make even the narrative work leaves Immortals ranking even lower than the remake of Clash Of The Titans – and that’s something I never thought would happen.