There’s nothing wrong with Immortals that a commentary track from Mystery Science Theater 3000 wouldn’t fix. Thuddingly ponderous, heavy-handed and lacking a single moment that evinces any relish for movie-making, this lurch back from the “history” of 300 into the mists of Greek myth is a drag in nearly every way, from the particulars of physical torture to the pounding score that won’t quit. As if poor, beleaguered Greece needs this right now, a bad film about its unruly gods and founders. Still, a certain percentage of the public that made 300 such a big worldwide hit will automatically turn out for this similar-looking visual effects-dominated action epic, but final commercial results look to fall well short of those of its predecessor.
To his credit, director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (billed on previous films as just Tarsem or Tarsem Singh—his name grows with his pretentions) does create a visual world here that represents a heightened reality; the dramatic landscapes, enormous vistas, brilliant skies, dramatic architecture and wild costumes overlap with but are not constrained by the real world or historical locations. At the same time, however, it all feels cramped and claustrophobic; the villages and encampments are mostly tucked on ledges along the edges of sheer cliffs, boxing everyone in; the gods peer down on human endeavor from perilous precipices and even the climactic battle is largely fought in a long, low-ceilinged tunnel, all of this, one deduces, due to the fact that the actors were positioned in small spaces in front of screens upon which the backgrounds would later be filled in. The 3D notwithstanding, it’s almost as if you’re watching actors on a stage in front of painted backdrops. The technology looks to have hemmed in the spectacle.
The ancient tales relating to the wild ways of the mythical gods can be confusing under the best of circumstances; it’s a challenge even getting your head around the paternity of this film’s hero, Theseus, as he was supposedly both divine and mortal by virtue of the fact that, on the night of his conception, his mother Aethra slept with both Poseidon and Aegeus. So you can’t blame brother screenwriters Charles and Vlas Parlapanides for simplifying matters by making King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) a plain and simple murderous maniac bent upon not only eliminating all human opposition in Greece in the year 1228 B.C., to be absolutely precise, but liberating his long-imprisoned fellow Titans and unseating the gods of Olympus.
What will clinch the deal for Hyperion is finding the elusive Bow of Epirus, an ancient equivalent of a sub-machine gun capable of shooting an unlimited number of magically produced arrows in rapid succession. Beating him to it is man of the people Theseus (Henry Cavill), convulsed into action by the annihilation of his village and Hyperion’s sadistic murder of his mother, and inspired by the visions of the Sybelline Oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto).
Any number of early scenes are devoted to demonstrating what a bad idea it is to come to the attention of Hyperion. Proving that, given the chance based on his career resurrection with The Wrestler, Rourke is capable of taking paycheck roles in a whole new slew of bad movies, the actor skulks around with massive scars on his face that must have been caused by too carelessly donning one of his own beclawed masks. As Hyperion dispatches even sycophants bearing good tidings and prolongs his victims’ pain in novel ways, such as cooking them alive inside a hollow silver minotaur, Rourke employs a basso profondo as an intimation of the seismic waves he intends to unleash upon the entire Greek cosmos. It’s ham sliced thick and, as such, worthy of a wink and a nod.
But, if fun is what his performance even is, there is none else to be found here. 300, which was produced by two of this film’s producers, Gianni Nunari and Mark Canton, at least had a certain unembarrassed blood lust, hot stuff between Gerard Butler and Lena Headey, amusingly overbuffed bodies and a sly homoerotic undertow that went with it. Immortals is not only entirely without humor, but is dominated by a lot of huffing and puffing, thunderous self-importance and windy Socratic quotations about the immortality and divinity of men’s souls. You just have to roll your eyes after a while.
Assigned to save the Greek world here, Cavill will be the subject of additional scrutiny here as his next assignment is to save the American way of life as Superman. He’s handsome, lean and ripped here but increasingly displays his English accent the more he bellows, something one can only hope he does less of in Man of Steel Stephen Dorff is rather less imposing as an impudent slave who fights alongside him and, no matter how many suggestive remarks he makes, is never going to prevail for the attentions of Phaedra, capably embodied by Pinto, just about the only one in the cast not required to shout or roar most of her lines.
The most eye-catching creative contribution consists of Eiko Ishioka’s sometimes striking costume designs, which not only functionally differentiate the assorted factions but often pop the eyes even against the colorful backgrounds.