18 November 2011


With a new Twilight movie in cinemas today (my review is coming on Monday), it's surprising to see that the studios keep trying to make mythological fantasy films into the correspondingly popular brand of erotic wish-fulfilment with young men. Ever since Zack Snyder orchestrated the campy action extravaganza of 300, we've had a number of varying attempts to capitalise on Greek mythology for different audiences, with varying success.

And now comes Immortals, another action movie in which grunty, shirtless men do battle for liberty, and the production design is just fabulous. Ahem. This latest contortion of Greek mythology is based around Theseus, who, in this version, is some sort of plucky lumberjack, living in a cliff-side village. His village is destroyed by Hyperion, a murderous tyrant who is looking for a bow that will allow him to unleash the titans and dethrone the gods. The gods, forbidden to interfere in the affairs of mortals, trust in Theseus to deliver mankind from destruction, relying on only his courage, the companionship of a hot prophet and... oh yeah, the magic bow.

As a McGuffin, the crucial Epirus Bow is particularly annoying to me. In form and function, it's no problem within the Greek mythological setting. But what the bow comes to represent is the characters' damn foolishness. It repeatedly changes hands out of complete carelessness, in such ways that you'd never know it was apparently the most important object in the mortal realm. Not unless that same script kept having the characters tell you how important it was, anyway. Immortals might be another style-over-substance art film from The Cell director Tarsem Singh, but annoyingly, it's the actual context of each individual element which lets it down massively.

For instance, you could argue that Tarsem's artistic composition of shots is unparalleled. I'd argue that he creates shots, rather than scenes, and that his particular brand of visual talent is better suited to video art or music videos than full-blown features like this. Eiko Ishioka's costume design is picking up good notices all over, for effectively pulling off the stylised and fetishised design that comes hand in hand with a Tarsem feature. But with no real context, the spangly golden attire of the gods, particularly Poseidon's Magikarp helmet, seem impractical in the extreme, especially when we finally see how immortals actually fight.

Even the cast is largely in fine form, for all the good it does. Future Superman Henry Cavill muscles through a cavalcade of brutal fight scenes, and he makes for a credible hero, if not a sympathetic one, while Frieda Pinto watches from the sidelines, and is at least matches the film for ludicrous gorgeousness. But the cast can't do anything with the way that the characters are led by the action. Luke Evans' Zeus proves to be particularly bi-polar, falling victim to the inconsistent whims of action movie structure. It's all the more annoying when the most over-powering and pro-active performance in the film, by Mickey Rourke, is also by far the worst.

Stubbornly grumbling through the film in precisely the way he always does, he seems to have completely forsaken the promise of a comeback and settled into big-salary supporting gigs in films like Iron Man 2, The Expendables and its ilk. His howlingly ridiculous villain, Hyperion, is the eye of the storm for Immortals' confused mush of visual wankery. At one point, his main henchman, a giant in a barbed-wire bull mask, takes up an oversized croquet mallet and more or less thwacks a traitor to the good guys. Don't ask me why- I don't even know why they have a guy in a barbed-wire mask standing in for an actual minotaur.

Charles and Vlas Parlapanides' script strives to be taken seriously, but the film winds up being yet another Hollywood feature that utterly divorces cause from effect, with an abundance of grand-looking action, but without any reason for the audience to care. And so the endless succession of crucial battle scenes between gods and titans come across as little more than Power Rangers- Greek Patrol, or something. Like Saban's long-running and colourful merchandising machine, many of the film's most sumptuous visuals are wasted on scenes that might as well be enacted by action figures.

If nothing else, Immortals looks gorgeous. But provided it gets a decent transfer, it will make a better test disc for your Blu-ray player, than a worthwhile cinema trip. There's an increasingly popular discourse that points to Tarsem as the arthouse analog to Michael Bay. On the dubious merits of this film's visual competence as opposed to any coherence or investment in the plot, that's not a bad shout. But aside from Rourke's performance, I couldn't point to any reason why it sucks so much outside of the by-numbers script. Yet another ultra-violent and fetishised addendum to Greek mythology.

Immortals is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Immortals, why not share your comments below? Also, anyone seen this trailer for Tarsem's upcoming Snow White movie, Mirror Mirror? Instinctively, I'm not ruling this one out just yet- I favour the idea of a pantomime version writ large, even if most people seem to be Team Snow White And The Huntsman.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

junkpunk said...

This looks like another film that suffers from awesome trailer syndrome. I really liked the 300 as a one-off visual film, but not sure I can stomach any more of this stuff. Is it better in 3d?