By Toussaint Egan
Tarsem Singh’s latest film, Immortals, is a dramatic stylized reinterpretation of Greek myth, combining the gruesome frenetic violence of 300 with the surreal avant-garde imagery of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Mickey Rourke plays villain King Hyperion, ruler of Crete and leader of the Heraklion army who, in his grief out of the God’s refusal to rescue his disease-stricken family, becomes twisted by hatred into a ruthless war lord hell-bent on toppling the Olympic pantheon at any cost. His objective is to uncover the Epirus Bow, a long lost mythical weapon forged by the gods, and use it to free the bloodthirsty Titans imprisoned in the bowels of Mount Tartarus. His relentless campaign of bloodlust inadvertently draws in Theseus and Phaedra, the two main protagonists of the film. Theseus, played by Henry Cavill, is a peasant turned impassioned warrior seeking revenge against Hyperion for the sacking of his village. Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame plays Phaedra, an oracle priestess determined to keep the Epirus Bow from Hyperion by any means.
When talking about the strengths and faults of this film, it’s near impossible for me to not cite past stylistic graces and blunders of its director, as the two are one in the same. Tarsem Singh is known for being an auteur director, particularly for producing delivering visual spectacles that showcase an astounding range of locations and costumes. Despite his reputation, Singh consistently falls short in terms of storyline and character depth. And though I can’t say that Immortals entirely bucks this unfortunate trend, it’s admirable to see Singh’s acknowledgement of these faults in his attempts to overcome this shortcoming. As he sets out on his quest to prevent Hyperion from freeing the Titans, Theseus is constantly at odds with the limitations of his social class, his lack of faith in the Gods and his internal struggle that anchors the narrative of Immortals. While watching the film, I thought it was curious to see how Singh utilized digital coloration and visual effects in comparison to the work of his 2006 movie The Fall, a film known for its massive undertaking of filming in over 20 different countries and its refusal to use conventional CGI effects. Though it is the most distinct difference between his past and current work, his affinity for surreal architecture set against sparse backgrounds remains intact, evoking a persistent tone of mysticism and aloofness throughout the film.
The fight scene choreography is fast, impressive and engrossing. Make no mistake; the violence in this film is not for the faint of heart. Brutality is portrayed in the film’s climactic battle at the base of Mount Tartarus, where Hyperion and Theseus’ armies deliver a dizzying overload of slowed montages, carnage and intense executions.
Eiko Ishioka, acclaimed fashion designer and a frequent collaborator on all of Tarsem’s previous films, is back again. Ishioka contributes her distinctive flair for strikingly original and aesthetically provocative costume designs to Immortals. Although I believe that Ishioka’s costumes are an essential part of the atmosphere and tone of the film, I suspect that some moviegoers will be put off by the unfortunate hokiness of her flamboyant designs, particularly those of the Greek gods.
Speaking of which, the behaviors and performances of the gods in Immortals are dumbfounding. Halfway through the film, Zeus, played by Luke Evans, bars the rest of the gods on threat ofdeath or exile from intervening in the oncoming war on Theseus’ behalf, yet at the same time, intervenes and watches over all steps in his journey in the form of a hawk. Presumably, this is out of his “faith” in humanity and desire to “test” Theseus’ mettle and potential of ascending to the ranks of the heavenly pantheon. But seriously, this “Do as I say not as I do, or so help me if I find out I will throw you through a wall” mentality is bewildering to say the least, and it doesn’t get any better when compared to the flat-toned stoicism of the other gods. Greek pantheons of ancient times were depicted as flawed and imperfect deities, prone to callous acts of violent debauchery and spiteful overreactions whenever slighted. I suppose, upon reflection, they got that last part right. I guess.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. It’s more than the carbon copy of 300 that advertisers would lead you to believe. That being said, its influence is hard to overlook. The denouement of Immortals is as exaggerated as the rest of the film, and I enjoyed the way the myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth was incorporated into the action. It’s an enjoyable film, just not one that will be remembered long after its conclusion. I would recommend this to any action-oriented audience with an appetite for a 300-esque experience, but also willing to tolerate a bit of art movie nuance.