Review: Immortals

Ever since “Gladiator” and “300” any movie that bears a resemblance (or just has swords/mythology/history) is immediately put on the scales along with these seminal works to see how they measure up. “Sword-and-sandal” films have been a staple in Hollywood since “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus,” satisfying the primal bloodlust of audiences ever since, one sword slash at a time. Personally, I love “Gladiator” and “300,” but that certainly doesn’t stop me from expanding my horizons and opening my mind to the future incarnations of the genre.

“Immortals” is the next step in the evolutionary chain, a culmination of style and character, both in archetype and in action, that makes a bold, stylistic leap beyond its predecessors standards. It also takes a few steps back. “Immortals” lacks the depth of “Gladiator,” which revels in its characters. Instead, “Immortals” plays the road of familiarity with grace, rather than trying to reinvent a genre that’s already been plowed over enough. However, that does not leave “Immortals” floundering for interesting, even imposing characters; they just don’t walk through wheat fields with open hands while ominous music plays.

What Singh accomplishes in story far outweighs what he fails in. Simplicity is key with “Immortals.” He’s not reinventing the wheel or the genre; he’s just lending his visual punch to it. What new motive, after all, does a hero need in order to be relevant to a modern audience? Revenge is revenge is revenge, I think we can agree. And Theseus, played with valiant strength and heart by Henry Cavill (your next Superman), is after just that. He’s not super deep, but he’s super committed and resolved. He’s the son of a God who shows no fear. Unlike the petulant attitude that corrupted Sam Worthington’s Perseus in the remake of “Clash of the Titans,” another swordplay genre entry, Cavill’s Theseus is simply an unwavering man of courage. He is neither for nor against the Gods, but a man who embraces his own destiny, regardless of the outcome.

“Immortals” is a simple story with complex and dynamic visuals. It’s obvious from many of the critic’s reviews that it was not enough for them. Some called it boring and dull, even lifeless. I respectfully disagree. I was enthralled from beginning to end. The visuals alone could account for that, but coupled with a star-making performance by Cavill and a deviant, vicious performance by Mickey Rourke as the villain, Hyperion, a strong score by Trevor Morris, and some outstanding action/editing, “Immortals” soared for me. You’ve seen similar stuff, but you haven’t seen it done this well.

In truth, I am a bit taken back by how much I enjoyed “Immortals.” I actually went back to rotten tomatoes to read a few reviews, both good and bad, to see if I had missed something or possibly given too much credit. In the end, though, you have to ask yourself what is it that inspired such a positive reaction? I like to call this the “fuck yeah!” factor. If at any time, and especially if it occurs more than once, you think or say aloud the words, “fuck yeah!” while watching a movie, then something is definitely working that is firing on all cylinders.

I like bloodlust and battles and kick ass fight scenes as much as anyone, if not more. I’m an action guy. As much as I love all genres, action and adventure are definitely the most appealing to me, especially when married with characters and story that define said action and adventure. “Immortals” does action exceptionally well, which is surprising given that it’s director Tarsem Singh’s first action film. Singh, who has a distinct and visually stunning style (see “The Cell” and “The Fall”) has crafted a film that is not only consistent with his vision, but also delivers on the swordplay with a deft hand. With that, I found myself delivering the “fuck yeah!” on more than five or six occasions while watching the film.

Cavill displaces the bad guys with an awesome, savage grace that is certainly reminiscent of the badassdom that was “300.” There are more than a few nods to Zack Snyder’s visionary adaptation, but “Immortals” stands on its own two feet, never fully swiping Snyder’s style, instead taking it to another level. I want to say that I can see why some people would not like this movie, but that just doesn’t feel like an accurate statement. I often find myself almost apologizing for a movie that may not appeal to the masses, but that I think is great. No, I think a better statement would be that I fail to understand why people WOULDN’T like this. It’s everything an exhilarating, visionary ride.

I saw this in 3D and was actually looking forward to it as I felt it suited Singh’s style perfectly. I can’t say it made a massive difference, but it did look good. It’s the typical feeling I get with most 3D movies; after seeing it in 3D I want to see it in 2D just to compare and contrast. I don’t think it makes much of a difference, but there are definitely some sequences that really shine in 3D. Singh drew heavy influences from Greek and Renaissance art, particularly the lavish paintings from that period that depicted…well, Gods and Men. It’s a welcome nod, especially for us art nerds.

Cavill, currently donning the red and blue tights of a certain Kryptionian (ironically, for “300” director Snyder) has movie star presence through and through here, not to mention being in tip top, lady-pleasing, guy-envying shape. From the trailers, I got the impression that Cavill may not fill the role, possibly coming off as nothing more than some bratty warrior. Not so. Not so at all. Cavill packs a solid punch. He may not be “Oscar worthy” in this, but that’s not the point of the role. It’s a preview of a star in the making and you can now count me amongst the ranks of his fans. I look forward to seeing what kind of work he churns out post “Man of Steel.”

Frieda Pinto, the stunningly beautiful actress from “Slumdog Millionaire” is no less gorgeous here, playing the role of an oracle that assists Theseus (both with his quest and sexy time). Pinto is every bit as marvelous to look at as Singh’s visuals and she produces a well-crafted performance. She’s still kind of the “token hot chick” of the film, but she plays the role well. The odd inclusion of Stephen Dorff (probably best known as the villain in the first “Blade” film) is easily assuaged by his performance, which is part comic relief, part bad ass. He carries his role with confidence and I was reminded that Dorff is actually a good actor, even if he isn’t given anything exceptional here. It was a welcome surprise.

The Gods, portrayed by youthful actors, defying the stereotype of Gods as bearded old bastards (as most recently seen in “Clash of the Titans”), all exude a strong presence (and some cool entrances, to be sure). Particularly, Luke Evans as Zeus, is unwavering and fatherly in his performance, lending a vulnerability to the oft-characterized myth of Zeus, while still paying homage to his trademark harshness.

Finally, we have Mickey Rourke, playing the dastardly evil villain, Hyperion. Hyperion’s motives were unclear from the get go, and therein lies a hiccup in the story. His hatred for the Gods is revealed, as he states before burning a priest alive, but I’m not sure if that’s enough to inspire world domination. Despite his prayers to the Gods, his family died of disease, creating a thirst to make the Gods pay for his loss. Hyperion seeks the key to their destruction by finding a Godly weapon known as the Epirus Bow, which fell from heaven to earth after a great battle, which ended in the imprisonment of the defeated Gods, now referred to as Titans, who are locked away in the bowels of Mount Tartarus. Maddened by power, anger, revenge, we’re not quite sure distinctly. However, Rourke sells it.

Rourke has been having a bit of a career rollercoaster ride since his reemergence as “FrankenRourke.” Once the good-looking leading man, Rourke took a turn for the worse in his personal life and came out the other end looking like the evil twin version of his former self. One thing he didn’t lose was his acting chops. Regardless of what he’s in, whether it’s a good or bad film, Rourke is always an attribute to it and in “Immortals” he is given the perfect vehicle for his sadistic, creepy, and imposing force of nature. Hyperion is irredeemably evil and builds his army out of men of equal character, personally scarring many of them to reflect his own terrifying features. It’s hard not to love hating Hyperion as played by Rourke. He’s such an evil bastard that you cross your fingers that Cavill’s Theseus will kill him good. When I get excited to see a villain die and hope that he gets a deservedly vengeful death, then I know the movie I’m watching is on the right track.

Where Singh skimps on deep characterization, he excels at in build up and editing (as well as absolutely enthralling visuals). There isn’t enough matching action in films today. It was most used by George Lucas in the Star Wars films, the finale of each film following along with a number of conflicts at once, creating that pulse-pounding excitement as you watch all the elements come of their conclusion. As “Immortals” arrives to its conclusion, we are treated to a lot of shield smacking, speech giving, body tossing, sword chopping, slow motion action, all done with stellar results. Yeah, you may think you’ve “seen-it-all-before,” but even if that were the case, you can’t say it isn’t still great. And, truthfully, it probably didn’t look this good the last time you saw it.

The violence is bloody and epic, much like “300” or the Starz channel’s “Spartacus,” which falls in line with the current genre standards. There are a number of “Fuck yeah!” moments as a result, many of which are simply some sweet moves by Cavill, hack/slashing his way through a mountain of Hyperion’s masked army. (I found the masks and costumes to be especially cool). The final battle between Theseus and Hyperion is a personal, bloody, and vicious affair, much like an MMA fight on pay-per-view. I thought this was clever and showed a sharp attention to their dynamic. While the God’s battle the Titan’s, two unrelenting humans do the same, each with a world at stake.

With a visual style that stands on its own, a star-making performance by Cavill, a deviously awesome performance by the ever-reliable Rourke, and some damn good fight scenes that eeked out the “fuck yeah!” factor to a great degree, I couldn’t help but love “Immortals,” and won’t apologize for it. I’m sure some will take my recommendation and be disappointed. If that’s the case, I think they should ask themselves if they’re disappointed because it’s simply not “like the others?” If that’s the case, then it may be time to lock yourself out of the genre and walk in the fields of wheat with Maximus and Leonidas. For me, though, I’m happy to see another side of the coin, and welcome another solid addition to one of my favorite genres. “Immortals” is, for all intents and purposes, a fucking cool movie. I can’t wait to see it again.

4 Responses to Review: Immortals

  1. DO November 18, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    So are you Team Theseusor Team Hyperion?

  2. Paul Shirey November 19, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Definitely Team Theseus. Although, I’d like to see Hyperion dispatch the entire Twilight cast with his brand of punishment.

  3. Moose Ninja December 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Great review. Truth be told I’m kinda’ over the look of the whole CG 300/Immortals/Pathfinder type movies. At first it was an amazing feat. Now it looks like those movies are just put through a 300 filter.

    But your review made me think that maybe this one is worth checkin’ out.

    • Paul Shirey December 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      I can see the speed ramping and hyper stylization getting old to many audiences, but I merely see it as a great use of visual storytelling. I think Tarsem nails it as much as Snyder. It’s not for everyone, to be sure, but I really connected with it. What I dug the most was the satisfaction of the climax. Too often these days I am underwhelmed by the final battle, the showdown. It’s weak or boring or, as we all know is my villain death pet peeve, it’s a toss off a roof. Immortals is none of that.

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