The Gods Need A Hero

Tarsem Singh

Henry Cavill
Mickey Rourke
Freida Pinto
Luke Evans
Stephen Dorff

Despite the fact he’s only made two films before Immortals (one of which being simply ‘alright’), I’m quite the fan of Tarsem Singh’s work. The man has such a keen visual eye for uniquely breathtaking cinema that any other flaws simply evaporate. I’m not saying they’re not there, just that you don’t seem to worry about them. No doubt Immortals will receive a great amount of negative press but of the recent big budget swords-and-sandals flicks (namely Troy, 300 and Clash Of The Titans) this is probably the strongest.

Set in an extremely stylised version of ancient Greece, Hyperion [Rourke], the King of Crete, has set out to conquer the known world as an act of vengeance against the gods who stood by while his family suffered and died of plague. His ultimate goal appears to be cementing his place in the history books by obtaining the legendary Epirus bow, releasing the titans and essentially ruling the world. In order to acquire the bow, Hyperion must first enslave the only individual who can locate it, a virgin oracle named Phaedra [Pinto]. At the same time, Hyperion’s army marches toward a village where a young peasant, Theseus [Cavill], resides. Theseus’ only real understanding of the world is his duty to his mother – the goings on of life outside are almost irrelevant. With the army approaching, the town is evacuated in order of class; meaning the peasants will be escorted with the second caravan. Before they can leave they are betrayed by one of their own embittered defecting soldiers and Theseus’ mother is killed. Theseus himself, unable to prevent her death is captured and put to work in a mine. Before his arrival he meets with the thief Stavros [Dorff] and the enslaved Phaedra. Sensing there is some great destiny surrounding the choices Theseus will make in life, Phaedra prompts Stavros to help her escape on the condition he includes Theseus. Whilst all this is happening, we are introduced to the gods watching from Mount Olympus. As much as he has faith in Theseus becoming a leader of men, Zeus [Evans] refuses to interfere and issues a decree that any god caught directly intervening will be put to death.

The first thing to really get out of the way is the historical accuracy and the artistic licensing with the characters. Much in the same vain as 13th Warrior, Immortals is less concerned with telling an exact adaptation and more a unique interpretation of events that would eventually become the myths we are familiar with. Once you understand this, all the nagging little inaccuracies and liberties taken seem less problematic. Personally, I felt the story was a beautiful portrayal, told in an extremely interesting and engrossing manner, mixing the realistic with the arguably plausible. The most notable element being the representation of the gods and titans as incredibly powerful, agile, glowing beings, rather than the toga wearing giants we’re more accustomed to. Everything about their on-screen presence screams pure majesty and when they eventually release their full potential, the effect is stunning; equally, the titans feel more like a dangerous feral tribe rather than lumbering beasts. But as ingenious as this decision is, it also robs the film of a vast epicness that audiences have come to expect – even though this is the first thing people complain about when watching mythological blockbusters. In other words, by making everything largely credible and as realistic as possible, the magnanimous feeling that comes with an ancient epic seems absent.

The performances aren’t particularly groundbreaking – namely because most of the characters were relatively 2D and formulaic for their archetype – but that’s a standard hazard with this genre. The only actor that really seems weak or underwhelming is Freida Pinto. In a similar role to Caroline Aranha in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, she looks lost throughout the film, only really shining at a handful of key moments. In the movie’s defence, I liked that she was a reasonably helpless maiden, if only because it bestowed some semblance of historic and character realism – I hate the need to make female waifs as strong as their male counterparts solely because it’s fair or whatever. The oracles’ personal guard being skilled warriors? No problem there. The oracle being a badass with a blade? I would have grumbled. But I digress. Henry Cavill’s performance fits neatly for the role and he does a commendable job but all I kept thinking was, “Can he play Superman?” The answer is yes, by the way. Mickey Rourke’s contribution as Hyperion is also interesting if only because he conveys a more sinister and threatening side than I’ve seen from him as an antagonist. For a time you understand his frustration and rage but his methods are so brutal that he is genuinely quite frightening. Outside of the leads, Dorff fulfils the cocky sidekick role with ease and the gods provide decent support; a lot of the remaining cast are just filler but they still manage to compose themselves decently throughout.

Tarsem’s biggest flaw (as far as critics and cinemagoers are concerned) is his inability to match storytelling with spectacular visual sequences; as such, no one will say a negative word against the cinematography, costumes, make-up, sets or artistic choices but they’ll still bitch that it was slow, boring or stupid. I am a fan, so I may very well be a biased party but I have to disagree, Immortals is a good combination of luscious visuals, reasonably paced story, spectacular action sequences and decent performances. I will however state that the score by Trevor Morris (known for his work on The Tudors) left a lot to be desired. There was enough to match the on-screen entertainment but in making the radical elements a little more down-to-earth, the score should have been dramatically elevated. Also, this is the first film where the 3D effect didn’t overly blur or spoil the picture – I still think it’s a gimmick, so I rarely report on 3D versions in my reviews but care has been taken to ensure the 3D illusion is achieved without compromising the finished product. Naturally, this film will not be for everyone, you’ll have the overly opinionated proclaiming it violent, inaccurate and cliché, whilst those expecting a second 300 will say it’s dumb, wordy and boring. My opinion? See it.

Release Date:
11th November 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
I bloody hate sex scenes. Unless you’re going for something incredibly graphic it just comes off as unrealistic pap. Being male, you’d think I’d cheer every opportunity for nakedity and grinding but it feels so out-of-place and stupid in films that it really slows the pacing down. I appreciate they ‘needed’ a sex scene in this film but I really haven’t seen anyone get it right.. well, not in a film rated 15. Outside of that little gripe, anything featuring the brazen bull was brilliant. For those unfamiliar with the history behind it, it’s a horrifying reveal, for those who know exactly how it was used, its on-screen presence is terrifyingly ominous.

Notable Characters:
Both Cavill and Rourke provide respectable on-screen performances but Luke Evans as Zeus is something to be noted, if only because Zeus is almost always portrayed as an old bearded man. It’s refreshing to see each of the divine beings played by beautiful svelte youths with exceptional speed, agility and strength without sinking into that weird MTV territory. I wouldn’t necessarily say any of the gods’ performances outshone the leads but it’s one of the only aspects of casting which could have gone hideously wrong. Thankfully this is far from the case.

Highlighted Quote:
“During times of peace, the sons bury their fathers, but in war it is the fathers who send their sons to the grave. Are we at war, Father?”

In A Few Words:
“Like the majority of Tarsem’s work, Immortals won’t please everyone but it is without a doubt an exceedingly beautiful piece of artwork”

Total Score: