Anyone interested in a mix of stunning visual compositions and brutal fight sequences, Immortals isn't likely to disappoint.
Director Tarsem Singh is one of the most stimulating filmmakers operating in Hollywood today, a visionary whose films often attempt to blur the lines between cinematic entertainment and artistry, often reveling in visual spectacle. As a result, for some moviegoers, his projects have routinely been lost somewhere in the middle ground. His film The Fall has been criticized as an incoherent series of abstract imagery - and similarly, some critics disregarded his psycho-thriller The Cell as a film whose story failed to live up to the ambitions of the onscreen visuals.
So, has the director managed to strike a healthier balance with Immortals, his most "commercial" film to date? Or does his gods and Greek warriors epic fall short under the weight of 3D visual pageantry?
While Immortals may not deliver an especially rich narrative or deep and complicated characters, the film's story is far more linear and controlled than Singh's other works. As result, despite relying on one-dimensional motivations and some melodramatic exchanges, the character moments successfully keep the film moving in between combat set pieces and sequences that highlight Singh's trademark visual stylings.
The story, which features some intriguing twists on Greek mythology, begins after the infamous War of the Titans - as King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) attempts to enact revenge on the Olympians for the death of his family. Hyperion and his army slay Greek settlement after settlement in search of the Epirus Bow - a weapon created by Heracles (Steve Byers), capable of freeing the Titans from Tartarus and turning the tide against Zeus and the other gods. To combat the threat, Zeus (Luke Evans) enlists Theseus (Henry Cavill), a fearless peasant, to fight Hyperion and his army - since the Olympians have been forbidden from interfering in the battle.
This isn't to say that the performances themselves are entirely hollow or emotionless. Mickey Rourke carries the film with a cool and sinister take on Hyperion, tasked with delivering a ton of dialogue that, in less-capable hands, could have fallen flat. Cavill succeeds in rallying the audience to his side and definitely excels in a number of hard-hitting fight sequences. (Though, for anyone still stressed about the actor's casting in Man of Steel, his performance as Theseus isn't likely to give film-fans much insight into how he will play Superman, one way or the other, as the story doesn't provide Theseus much room to be anything but a sympathetic killing machine.)
The supporting cast is equally competent: Luke Evans (playing Zeus) and Freida Pinto (playing Phaedra) ground things a bit, since a lot of the other surrounding characters are one-note warriors with no caution or remorse. Stephen Dorff also manages to bring a bit of light-hearted charm to the proceedings as Stavros - though his character is about as thin as any of Singh's creations.
However, this film isn't aiming to explore deep character motivations, and, to an extent, seems to revel in the simplicity of its Greek mythology "source material," while abandoning many of the more complicated character histories (Theseus was the son of Poseidon and King Hyperion was a Titan - though neither of these angles are directly explored in the film). Instead, Immortals successfully focuses on twisting the larger-than-life stories into compelling and, of course, interesting-looking onscreen action.
The variations on traditional mythology do not disappoint when Olympians elect to interfere in a variety of iconic ways, or when Theseus is pitted against a "Beast" in the labyrinth (among other sequences). It's in these hyper-realistic set-pieces that Singh's visual style really shines, as the director seems to have toiled over every single detail - setting, costume design, color palette, etc - creating some extremely rich and immersive onscreen eye candy. Where other films merely flaunt cool-looking visuals for the sake of showing audiences eye-popping CGI effects, even static set-dressings in Immortals succeed in building tension while capturing a Renaissance-like composition that is at the same time both beautiful and horrific.
That's not to say that film is bogged down in merely attempting to look like a moving painting: Immortals also features some pretty exciting and impressively shot action. While the battles are simply not on the immense scale of films like 300 or Clash of the Titans (which featured enormous monsters and diverse fight scenarios), the combat sequences in Immortals are still impressive - especially since a pair of Theseus' choreographed fight scenes appear to occur in one continuous take as Cavill ducks, spins, and slashes through a series of enemies. These combat sequences also make worthy use of the film's 3D format - as spears punch through characters at odd angles and the added depth keeps bodies from overlapping in close quarter combat.
Early on, Singh conceived of a number of the film's action sequences (as well as large-scale visuals) with 3D in mind - and the film definitely falls more on the side of the subtle-but-cool-looking 3D experience than an all-out in your face 3D extravaganza. Significant portions of the film don't always take advantage of the added dimension, but two or three of the combat sequences (especially the finale) - along with some cool establishing shots (such as the introduction of the Titans) - make it worth the price of the format upgrade.
Immortals isn't as over-the-top as some moviegoers might be anticipating, given its "From the Producers of 300" marketing. While it's definitely another stylized, big-budget, swords and shields epic, the real strength of the film lies in Tarsem Singh's imaginative vision - which is subsequently held together by an adequate story of gods, titans, and humanity. Film fans looking for deep and compelling character development or enormous CGI monsters may find the proceedings somewhat limited in scope (given Singh's focus on a relatively grounded and thin human storyline); but for anyone interested in a mix of stunning visual compositions and brutal fight sequences, Immortals isn't likely to disappoint.
If you’re still on the fence about Immortals, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below:
Immortals is now in theaters.
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