In the first of many examples of the cold cruelty brandished by Immortals antagonist King Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke, a violent end befalls a man’s most … er … cherished bits. A viewer in front of me exclaimed, “That’s some real shit!” proving this mere mortal as prophetic as the film’s oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto).
Immortals is like enduring a two-hour opiate bender: The credits roll you into reality, and you’re left wondering how the heck you got there. You remember director Tarsem Singh’s gorgeous scenery, the sweeping vistas and the garish uniforms, the grotesque masks and the grandiose headpieces. There are flashes to action sequences that slow down, speed up, slow down, pausing mid-dismemberment for dramatic effect, viscera spraying in all directions. You recall flexing abs and pecs and the flash of Phaedra’s buttocks. And, could it be, is that a … crow … acting as the audience surrogate? There’s a story in there: Characters initiated by greed and good and gods. You swear their respective motivations are just at the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite recall them. And, through it all, the common thread of omnipresent thundering bass. Or was that just the narcotic pulsing to your head? Damn, that was some strong stuff.
To loosely summarize the story: Hyperion declares war on humanity and searches for an Epirus Bow that will allow him to fully wield his godly powers. Hyperion’s goal is to free his long-enslaved Titans and wreak havoc. Draped in gold armor and lounging on white marble steps, Greek gods Zeus (Luke Evans), Athena (Isabel Lucas) and Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) gaze down upon the impending battle, reiterating the ancient codes that keep them from aiding the humans. But that doesn’t stop them from choosing a man, Theseus (Man of Steel‘s Henry Cavill), to lead the charge against Hyperion. On the road to war, Theseus becomes entwined with Phaedra and thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff). A whole bunch of meaningful glancing, interrupted by bullet time-style combat, ensues.
The real bummer about Immortals is that it lets its struggle to convey a story get in the way of all that adrenaline-pumping action. After a while, the bits of dialogue and exposition weigh the pace down to the lumbering speed of Hyperion’s metal-encrusted army. And it works way too hard to guide your senses; musical cues, grindingly slow pans and lingering stills pummel you with metaphor. This isn’t a thinking man’s action movie — it’s an action movie made by an over-thinking man. And, frankly, those moments when the brain shuts off and the bloodbath begins are the movie’s strong points.
Other highlights: Rourke as Hyperion and Cavill as Theseus. Sure, Mickey is a little typecast at this point, but every scene he’s in is laced with menace. I found myself white-knuckling my armrests the moment his face appeared on screen. And Cavill, while a little wooden in his efforts to navigate the less-than-stellar dialogue, proves he’ll make a fitting Superman. Dorff, on the other hand, is underused, relegated to cheesy one-liners and sidelined amid the choice action. Pinto, too, is displaying a frustrating streak of playing one-note characters (Phaedra and Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ Caroline are both pretty lackluster). This is partially the fault of Hollywood and its dearth of meaty roles for women, but I hope she gets to cut her teeth on something more substantial in the future. She’s certainly exquisite to look at, and Slumdog Millionaire demonstrated she has the chops to go with that glamorous visage.
I’m a fan of Singh’s 2006 film The Fall — it’s not perfect, but it’s a glorious example of his signature style — in which his obsession with technicolor, the creativity of his costumes and the dramatic thread of its elements intertwine with the plot. Immortals afforded him a larger canvas on which to paint, and he certainly makes the most of it (you could snap a photo of any scene and hang it among a Velazquez, Boticelli or Rembrandt section in a museum without interrupting the flow). However, he asks a little too much from his audience. And I’m frankly surprised that the fruits of Singh’s labors are displayed in 3D, which traditionally mutes the look of a movie. The 3D does nothing to enhance the action, and everything to detract from the director’s color palette. If you see this, make an effort to catch it in 2D.
Immortals could do with, as this world’s King once put it, a little less conversation and a little more action. But when the mood strikes and the flirtation’s with a knockout, there are moments when you can convince yourself it’s worth the effort.
Immortals opens today nationwide.