As I’ve admitted before, I am one of those super-geeks who has been a fan of all kinds of mythology since I was in primary school — so I’ve been imagining how the heroes, gods, and monsters should look on the big screen for a while. If I were to choose a director, I think Tarsem Singh (director of Immortals, along with the breathtaking head-trip that was The Cell, featuring Jennifer Lopez) is not far off. However, after this movie, the Parlapanides brothers better not be coming on as the writers. In Immortals, Tarsem proves that his skill lies in taking epic characters with larger-than-life visuals and adding even more dramatic flair and style. While the Parlapanides show that they can take the already classical tale of Theseus and the Minotaur and base a messy, hollow, pretentious, “twilight of the gods” story around it.
In this version, the story has King Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke as a kind of epic-tyrant-meets-Sons-of-Anarchy) rattling sabres against the gods by hunting for a magical bow with which to free the Titans (the ancient enemies of the gods), who are apparently held imprisoned under a mountain, bound together like immortal foosball players. (That’s foosball with an S not a T.) Meanwhile, Theseus (played by Henry Cavill, whose Spartan physique obviously met the standards of 300 director Zack Snyder, who cast him as the Man of Steel in the upcoming Superman reboot) toils away in a cliff-side village soon to be overrun by Hyperion’s men. What links these two stories (besides the imminent pillaging) is the virgin-oracle Phaedra (played by Slumdog hottie Freida Pinto). Her visions are required by Hyperion to locate that magical bow of Plot-device, but she sees a vision of Theseus wielding the same bow and decides to protect him instead.
Besides Phaedra who (at least by virtue of a romantic link to Theseus) resembles her canonical counterpart, there is also a labyrinth (but now it’s just a very convoluted temple built into the cliff wall) and a Minotaur (but now it’s just a big tough guy who grunts and wears a bull’s-head helmet). Even if it weren’t for all the offences against the original myth, there are still a lot of plot holes and meaningless events as the film progresses. One of the most fundamental problems is that no one’s motivation seems clear: Does Hyperion want to take over the known world? destroy the gods? or does he just want to free the Titans? Does Theseus just want to get revenge on Hyperion for killing his mother? or does he actually want to lead the Hellenics to victory? And what about the gods? They have a bunch of paradoxical rules about helping the humans (but only while in disguise) which they enforce until the Titans are released, at which point it’s fair game. So why can’t they also reveal themselves in order to prevent the Titans from being released?
My biggest problem with the story may seem kind of minor, but there’s a scene near the end of the movie when the gods are fighting the recently-freed Titans and losing. The canon-fiend in me is annoyed because there are only 12 Titans, and the gods have clearly killed more than 12 of these immortal zombies. The fact that more and more Titans keep coming, defeating the gods by their sheer number seems ridiculous. It suddenly felt like I was watching myself playing God of War III on my Playstation 3: same mythological backdrop, same over-the-top violence, and if I leave the area and come back sometimes the enemies that I’ve defeated are revived (though even a video game writer knows that this kind of no-win battle is also no-fun).
Similar to its predecessor (No, not Clash of the Titans or 300 … I’m referring to Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch), the director saves the movie, with its sloppy and pointless story, from total failure by packing in the amazing visuals. Even though there are not many scenes that include them, I love how Tarsem interprets the Olympian gods. Of course every character has a perfect marble-sculpture physique, but this is the first time I’ve seen a director treat the gods as parallels to modern-day super-heroes. There’s an amazing scene where the sea god Poseidon (who was originally Theseus’s father in the myth, but is now played by Kellan Lutz of Twilight fame) decides to intervene to save Theseus and Phaedra by diving from Olympus to earth and causing a tidal wave that kills Hyperion’s soldiers. As Poseidon rockets to earth at supersonic speeds, with golden cape flapping, he looks every bit like Superman (or even Neo from The Matrix).
Besides the action set-pieces (of which there are a few), the visual style also includes the clothing and scenery. The outfits of these characters are mostly normal sword-and-sandal stuff (though reversing the stereotype so women are dressed modestly while the men wear skimpy outfits), with the exception of the wonderfully garish headgear. I’m willing to bet that if Lady Gaga were in the audience she’d be busy texting her personal shopper. Hyperion’s battle helmet looks like a bunny costume crossed with a torture device; the oracle and her sisters travel with burka-style red coverings each adorned with a different headdress that looks like a chandelier lampshade; and then there’s the gods: Poseidon’s headgear resembles Princess Leia’s cinnamon buns (but I think they’re seashells) held together with some golden pipe-cleaners, and war god Ares’s helmet (which I think is the coolest) makes a mohawk out of golden swords. Finally, the backdrops are equally epic: from the massive wall separating the two warring forces (which is a decommissioned dam that actually looks like a concrete subway tunnel when the two armies are fighting within), to the Escher-esque Labyrinth temple full of altars made from giant stone heads, to the caverns of Mount Tartarus where the roof of the Titans’ prison is held up by three gargantuan statutes. Everything is big and tall: the sky, ocean, desert, even Hyperion’s army, all appear to have no end. The scale of everything seems larger than god or man.
All that being said, I can only recommend Immortals to serious mythology fans (and only if they’re willing to put aside any canon issues). It’s a treat for the eyes, but not much more than that. (3.5 out of 5)