The marketing team for Immortals want you to believe that the picture is a cross between 300 and the recent Clash of the Titans remake, situating muscular, sword-wielding 300-esque heroes within an action-packed tale concerning Greek Gods and myths. The description is somewhat suitable, but such a comparison would be trivialising Immortals; a film that’s brilliant enough to stand as its own unique specimen. Although it won’t get any acclaim for its script or human factor, the visual style is what makes this flick such a keeper. Coming from perfectionist Indian filmmaker Tarsem Singh, Immortals is a genuine stunner of a visual feast and an enthralling cinematic experience. This is the kind of stuff we go to the cinemas to see!
The anarchic King Hyperion (Rourke) is looking to conquer mortal men, and begins searching for a God-like weapon known as the Epirus Bow to help him unleash the malevolent Titans. Hyperion achieving his goals would bring about mankind’s destruction, as well as the end of the reign of Zeus (Evans) and his pantheon of Gods. After witnessing the desecration of his village and the death of his mother at the hands of Hyperion, skilled peasant Theseus (Cavill) vows revenge. As Hyperion rallies his troops, Theseus prepares for the battle of his life with assistance from thief Stavros (Dorff) and virgin oracle Phaedra (Pinto) whose visions imply that disaster is ahead.
Comparing Immortals to 300 on the basis of how it looks is unfair – Singh’s film may share the same producers, but it’s not much like Zach Snyder’s earlier feature at all. Snyder set out to replicate the look and feel of a Frank Miller graphic novel, but Singh’s visual style is inspired by ancient Baroque art (that is, sculptures and paintings which are exaggerated and ornately detailed to convey as much information as possible without words). The exact essence of Baroque has been captured by Tarsem and cinematographer Brendan Galvin, who have used phenomenal shot composition and a gorgeous colour scheme to communicate drama and chaos with minimal lines of dialogue. It’s a truly masterful approach. After all, movies are a visual medium and, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Every nickel of Immortals‘ estimated $75 million budget is accounted for on the screen, with lavish costumes, highly-detailed sets, and plenty of digital effects which infinitely extend the film’s scope. While blockbusters with a surplus of CGI usually fail to gel, the technique actually works here because the effects are solid and have weight and inertia, and it suits the aesthetic.
The narrative eventually culminates with a concluding act dedicated to action and warfare, with Hyperion charging the final stronghold of men and looking to breach the Titans’ mountain prison. Immortals has isolated action beats throughout the first two acts that leave you breathless, but the climax is a spectacle beyond belief. Tarsem avoided the shaky-cam/rapid-fire editing approach which is notorious for turning action into an incomprehensible blur. Instead, the framing is often wide and sturdy, allowing us to enjoy the carnage and actually watch the terrific fight choreography. There is the occasional use of slow motion whenever the Gods are around due to their superhuman speed, but the technique is not frequent or distracting. If anything, there’s not enough slo-mo, because there’s so much violent awesomeness to see and so little time to properly absorb it. On this basis, Immortals deserves multiple viewings. Granted, it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in the picture’s story and characters, but it’s also difficult to tear your eyes away from the screen because it’s constantly bursting with rich, layered, enthralling imagery.
As Theseus, Henry Cavill (a.k.a. the new Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel) admittedly has difficulties trying to act tough, but he’s nevertheless sincere and earnest, and he has a likeable screen presence. (His work here is definitely better than Sam Worthington’s performance in Clash of the Titans.) Meanwhile, it seems like Mickey Rourke had a grand old time chewing the scenery as the wicked King Hyperion. Mickey’s performance affords the film a genuine sense of gravitas, and the star is not as underused here as he was in Iron Man 2. Digging into the supporting cast, a surprisingly ripped Stephen Dorff is solid as Stavros, while Freida Pinto was a good pick for the virgin oracle. Rounding out the cast is Luke Evans, who’s terrific and intense as Zeus’ God form.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Immortals is the lingering sense that there should be more – more to the journey, more to the narrative, and more to the scope in general. It leaves you thinking that a bigger budget could have allowed for an extra 20 or 30 minutes of material to leave the film feeling truly epic. However, none of this implies that Immortals is unsatisfying. On the contrary, it’s an almost instant classic, and it says something about the quality of the movie if your biggest criticism is that it leaves you wanting more of it. While Immortals fails to pack the emotional punch of 300 or Gladiator, this is a beautifully-rendered flick which delivers what it promised on the tin. In other words, if you’re a joyless cynic you’ll probably hate it, but if you can embrace the material and appreciate the choice of visual storytelling, you’ll enjoy yourself immensely.