Review: Immortals (2011)

Immortals

Rating

Director
Tarsem Singh
Screenplay
Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides
Length
110 min.
Starring
Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Joseph Morgan, Anne Day-ones, Greg Bryk, Peter Stebbings, Daniel Sharman Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz
MPAA Rating
R for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality

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Review
There is a point where violence exceeds its natural or necessary limit. Immortals far exceeds that specification as it attempts to tell the saga of Greek legend Theseus (Henry Cavill) and his successful defeat of the vicious King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke).

Director Tarsem Singh is no stranger to stylized violence, his The Cell is one of the most twisted and viscerally demanding films of the last decade. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with a sensitivity towards style, as long as it’s healthily balanced with substance. The Cell carefully scaled that divide, but Immortals tries to be too stylish for its own good leaving a strong, central story weakened and almost derivative to the visual panache on the screen.

Singh has been lamenting the comparison his film is receiving to another sepia-brushed Greek epic 300. Are there similarities? Too many to dissuade even the most astute viewer from making the connection. Both films lack that narrative decisiveness that made epic period dramas like Ben-Hur and Gladiator so successful. This is where the two films depart slighlty. Whereas Immortals has a capable key performance from Cavill, 300’s Gerard Butler did little to develop his aggressive Leonidas into more than a bare-abs screaming machine.

Another thing that Immortals has going for it is that Singh understands the cinematic language in ways Zack Snyder doesn’t. Each may stylize the violence to fit his own aesthetic but Singh understands how stories need to flow, everything doesn’t need to be a constant rush to get to the next fancy action sequence. One of the most noteworthy visuals in this film was a slow pan up to a vast desert landscape, then a slow fade cut into an ocean abreast a series of tall cliff faces. The subtlety of the shift is mesmerizing even if some of the other more blatant visuals in the film are not.

Cavill is the only actor in the film that deserves any praise and that’s for standing above the film’s sea of banal performances. In spite of his terrific performance in The Wrestler, Rourke has become one of the least interesting actors working in villainy today. Hyperion is a scheming, murderous, vicious dictator yet there doesn’t seem to be much difference between this character and his nemesis in Iron Man who was a somewhat brooding, anti-hero type. When there isn’t much difference between anti-hero and bloodthirsty villain, you have a serious image problem.

Stephen Dorff as thief nd eventual Thesian compatriot Stavros isn’t moving past his glory days as a minor actor in genre films. In Somewhere, he showed he has some talent, here he just shows he has some abs. And that’s the most you can say about most of the actors in the film. Luke Evans as Zeus, Peter Stebbings as Helios, Daniel Sharman as Ares, Kellan Lutz as Poseidon and myriad other pointless bloodstains are nothing if not walking Abercrombie and Fitch models.

That dynamic is one of the most puzzling surrounding the modern, stylized sword and sandal epics. Never before has the male form been more prominently used as a marketing tool. The homoerotic overtones of both 300 and Immortals is even more bizarre when you consider that the core audience for both films is pre-pubescent boys and teenagers. Not that I’m complaining much. After years of objectifying the female form, a practice still frequently employed today, men are finally getting their own share of scantily-clad excessiveness. Perhaps our culture is finally to a point where blatant sexuality is less of the taboo it used to be, for better or for worse.

Singh’s Immortals is hands down a stylist’s film. There is no corner of the screen that isn’t open to lovingly crafted visual flair and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Balanced with a fine and compelling story, a film like Immortals could have been more than your garden variety genre waste. Instead, it’s just a handsome film to look at, but one that you can otherwise forget.
Review Written
November 17, 2011

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