- Rated R
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All photos © Relativity Media
Reviewed by Bob Westal
t's a story as old as time itself. No, I don’t mean the tale of an avenging hero who destroys evil, wins the favor of the gods, and liberates his people. I'm talking about what happens when a potentially decent big budget genre film is derailed by an unfocused, uninteresting screenplay that seems to have been everyone's lowest priority.
In traditional Greek mythology Theseus was the heroic demigod who founded the city-state of Athens. In "Immortals," however, Theseus (Henry Cavill) is a lowly craftsman who receives advice from an initially unnamed but theoretically wise old man (John Hurt, who also narrates). The young hero is soon embroiled in a combination personal vendetta and rebellion against tyranny in the form of the rampaging invader, King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who has brought his army of nasty Heraklions along on an obsessive quest for the miraculous bow of Epirus, your basic Hellenic MacGuffin.
Though plagued by a Hamlet-esque lack of faith in himself and atheist leanings, always troubling in a fantasy film leading man, Theseus is aided by a motley crew that includes Stavros (Stephen Dorf), a comic relief second-string hero. He is also provided with succor by the very beautiful Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes") as an initially mysterious figure called "the Virgin Oracle," an identifier she has to drop about halfway through the movie, nudge-nudge wink-wink. Meanwhile, Luke Evans ("The Three Musketeers") is the first Zeus in film history to sport a six-pack. Between trips to the god gym, he is busy trying to prevent any of his deputy deities from interfering in human affairs; it appears that Mount Olympus and Starfleet both operate under the same Prime Directive. Not paying any particular attention to Zeus's commands are the even lower body fat sub-deities, Athena (Isabel Lucas) and Poseidon (Kellan Lutz).
Though it has its share of imaginative violence and brutality cooked up by director/visual stylist Tarsem Singh ("The Fall"), the confused yet broth-thin "Immortals" screenplay credited to Charles and Vlas Parlapanides manages to muddle what should be the most understandable of objectives. By "understandable," I mean that bad guy Hyperion slashes the throat of Theseus's mother (Anne Day-Jones) right in front of him, which really should be a strong enough motivation for any revenge plot. Yet, we lose the emotional thread amidst many distractions and a strange undercurrent of what sounds like very unconvincing pro-religious propaganda, pagan context notwithstanding
Fortunately, director Singh does have a knack for creating arresting visuals, this time in decent (but not worth the up-charge) 3-D. The best imagery comes in the opening sequence with the introduction of some of the imprisoned Titans, deposed gods-cum-monsters created with some brilliant make-up work by Nikoletta Skarlatos and a possible nod to 1960s genre stylist Mario Bava. It's an image every bit as creepy as anything in Singh's critic-dividing 2000 science-fiction horror flick, "The Cell," but it's a long wait before we see anything remotely as stunning again. Singh is an affable and fairly witty guy in person, but his work is plagued by humorlessness and some pretension. His version of Mount Olympus looks mostly like a full-color perfume ad by way of Abercrombie and Fitch. No, it's not funny, and I'm pretty sure it's not intended to be.
You might have heard by now that "Immortals" is "from the producers of '300'," and indeed, Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari have assembled a strong cast that will probably guarantee their production a decent life on home video. Kal-El to be Henry Cavill is much more slender here than he'll be in "Man of Steel." Nevertheless, despite a lot of lumpen dialogue, he does demonstrate the ability to be a convincing and likable super-powered lead, and that's good news for super-fans. As the designated heroic comic relief, Steven Dorf gets his Han Solo on to the extent that he is allowed and is almost the sole source of intentional humor. Freida Pinto looks beautiful and strong yet vulnerable, which is pretty much the entire extent of her part. John Hurt, one of the greats, does a fine but unremarkable job with his wise old man schtick. Mickey Rourke, however, does what actors of his caliber tend to do when they are cast as the villain; he steals nearly all of his scenes. Luke Evans as Zeus is reasonably credible in an impossible role.
"Immortals" is a somewhat frustrating movie because, while it doesn't aim particularly high, it's not aggressively stupid or overtly bad in a lot of obvious ways, except that it's horribly dull for an ultraviolent super-spectacular. It's just one more example of why this would be a better movie world if the screenplay were perceived as being the most crucial element of a film package. This time, I fear, it was an afterthought.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
“Immortals” arrives on Blu-ray with a pretty standard selection of bonus material. It would have been great if director Tarsem Singh had recorded an audio commentary, but the 20-minute making-of featurette, “Carvaggio Meets Fight Club,” is a decent substitute that covers a variety of things including the look of the film, visual effects, stunts and the score. There’s also a short featurette on the history of myths and how they pertain to the movie, an alternate opening, two alternate endings, and eight deleted scenes. The inclusion of the graphic novel “Immortals: Gods & Heroes,” however, is really pointless because it's presented in such a way that makes it impossible to read.