Review: ‘Immortals’

“The ideas and themes at play in Immortals are unique and compelling enough to overcome many of the film’s obvious other flaws.”

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Immortals is a big, beautiful, sumptuous mess that I absolutely adore. It’s awkwardly plotted and thoroughly overblown, and yet I will defend it to the death in spite of those things because it’s not really a “movie” in any traditional sense. It runs at 24 frames per second and is playing at your local movie house, and yes, it tells a story featuring big time Hollywood actors, but Immortals is more of a pageant than anything else. There’s no other way to explain all the silly hats. And pageants don’t need to be coherent to do their job right.

Yes, Immortals gives unto you a procession of crazy hats. Big metal Mohawks that are the enemy of doors everywhere, bizarre seashell contraptions that make Kellan Lutz look like he’s playing “dress up” with his little baby sister (who is apparently a metallurgist), and weird lamprey eel-type cowls that wrap themselves around Mickey Rourke’s head, and have bunny ears. Every single one of them earns a smattering of applause upon their first appearance. In fact, most of the strange visual stylings of Tarsem Singh are worthy of applause in Immortals. Mostly for the right reasons.

What Tarsem Singh has done – we’ll get to the plot in a minute, hang on – is create a primer for every future 3D movie to follow. Singh gets it. He knows how to shoot a movie that takes advantage of 3D in a way that naysayers like myself can’t deny. He bathes his sets in light, compensating for the dimness of the glasses, and keeps his camera locked down tight, only gliding it along at a misty pace when necessary. Immortals never screws with your brain by cutting between a variety of depths. From a photographic standpoint, it’s almost subdued. Perhaps that’s why he overcompensated with outlandish production design and narrative bombast.

About that bombast: Immortals tells the story of Theseus (future Superman Henry Cavill), who has been secretly groomed since birth by Zeus himself to be a great leader of men. The irony is that Theseus has become a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, but that’s not important right away. What’s important is that King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has come a-conquering with his army of masked lunatics, seeking an ancient relic called “The Epirus Bow,” which is basically the world’s first bazooka, thousands of years before they were supposed to be invented. With the Epirus Bow, Hyperion will be able to free The Titans – the rival gods who were imprisoned by the popular Greek pantheon – and take over or possibly destroy the world, depending on who’s describing the plot at any given moment.

It’s easy enough to follow, and on the surface seems like an awkward follow-up to the most recent Clash of the Titans, which like Immortals used Greek mythology as a vague starting point to tell whatever story the filmmakers felt like doing that year. Unlike Clash of the Titans, however, the tweaks to the original story have an actual point. The fact that this version of Theseus’s epic journey varies from the myths of yore, as we learn at the end of the movie, is the direct result of the kind of naïve hero worship that every religion – according to avowed athiest Tarsem Singh, at least – falls victim to in the search for easy answers and all-powerful father figures in the sky.

You can sit back and enjoy Immortals whether you’re a true believer or not, since in this film gods do exist, but if you think about it hard enough their portrayal is puzzling and troublesome. Singh depicts the gods as benevolent in their non-interference; they hope that their children – that’s us – can solve their own damned problems, like any parent does when their younglings leave the nest. They’re determined to stay out of human affairs but are torn because if Hyperion succeeds, all of mankind will die and the gods themselves will be threatened. Zeus’s children are frequently tempted to meddle directly in the affairs of men, but Zeus himself (Luke Evans) is so committed to his principles that their punishment is uncomfortably severe. These are our gods and, as in the Greek myths of yore, they have a tendency to be inscrutable douche nozzles.

By the end of the film Theseus becomes a true believer not based on faith, but rather direct proof of the gods’ existence, and that separates him from the pitiable priests and sad secular humanists he encounters on his travels. Singh has faith in man, allowing Theseus to maintain his individual strength despite knowing the truth: that we are not alone after all. The ideas and themes at play in Immortals are unique and compelling enough to overcome many of the film’s obvious other flaws, like a plot based largely on coincidence (Theseus just happened to wind up in the same slave train as the oracle he needs to complete his quest), occasionally clunky pacing and those distractingly silly hats. I’ll always give extra credit to thematic ambition, but it’s not enough to save a film on its own. Luckily, Immortals is such a handsome, thrilling production that it didn’t need much saving in the first place. It’s hard to be angry at someone for having a cluttered apartment when it’s cluttered with such awesome stuff.