Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Immortals, the third feature film from one-of-a-kind visionary Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall), isn’t an easy movie to review with a clear conscience. On one hand, Tarsem’s brutally violent and decidedly R-rated excursion into made-up Greek mythology is a phenomenal eyegasm, brimming with the visually motivated filmmaker’s expectedly painting-like backgrounds, grandiose fight sequences, and artistic gore. The commercials have sold Immortals as the new 300, calling out the fact that both movies share the same producers, yet Tarsem’s creation is undoubtedly the more impressive sword-and-sandal corpse grinder, opening with a knockout battle, spending damn near all of its running time hopping from one stunning fight to another, and then ending with the granddaddy of them all.
Sounds like a recommendation, doesn't it? Not so fast, Gladiator lover. Whereas Tarsem’s work behind the camera is all great, the Immortals script, written by Vlas and Charles Parlapanides, is an epic failure. At first glance, the hackneyed plot touches upon the prerequisite beats of the film’s macho genre: An unlikely hero—in this case, Greek peasant turned head-smasher Theseus (Henry Cavill, your next Superman)—vows to kill the evil king, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), after he witnesses the powerful bastard murder his mother in front of him.
Simple enough, but then the Parlapanides, and Tarsem for that matter (obviously he signed off on the story here) complicate matters immensely by adding primitive-looking titans, a bull that walks on two human legs, wears an iron-maiden-esque mask, and has superhuman strength, and Theseus’ unnecessary Patton moments of leading the good guys against Hyperion’s masked army.
Tarsem’s brutally violent and decidedly R-rated excursion into made-up Greek mythology is a phenomenal eyegasm.
The only facet of Immortals where the screenwriters ironically do too little is in the character of Phaedra (Freida Pinto, sexier than ever), a virgin oracle who occasionally explains Theseus’ “purpose” to him, though for the audience’s sake it would’ve been clutch if she’d dictate just what in the hell is happening in any given scene. Pinto is given little else to do other than look gorgeous and stare googily-eyed at Theseus, the film’s only character with more than one-dimension; for his part, thankfully, Cavill makes for a convincing enough lead—meaning, he kicks ass with diesel believability. In Immortals, line readings are meaningless.
And Tarsem certainly gives Cavill and his colleagues plenty of chances to exhibit startling physicality. Seemingly designed to elicit viewers’ cheers more so than narrative empathy, Immortals takes every opportunity to decapitate random soldiers and spray blood geysers in somewhat beneficial 3D; one particularly queasy scene, however, is, praise be, left to the imagination, a wickedly intense moment involving Mickey Rourke, a huge mallet, and a poor guy’s exposed crotch (you do the math).
Visually, Immortals is a dazzler, which, against our better judgment, is enough to advocate a theater trip to see it. There’s nary a boring second; even the talky stretches are peppered with crowd-pleasing touches, namely an up-close-and-personal shot of Pinto’s backside during the inevitable love scene (or perhaps it’s body double's—either way, it’s glorious). Tarsem sends ticket-buyers reeling toward “Exit” signs with a final “gods versus titans” smackdown that’s basically a cavalcade of insane Mortal Kombat fatalities, and, yes, it’s every bit as kick-ass as that sounds.
Why exactly they’re all driving tritons into each other throats and smashing skulls like Gallagher and his watermelons is a storytelling problem that’s left muddled and indecipherable by the film’s incoherent script. There’s something to do with a magical bow that fires off glowing arrows, a MacGuffin that’s forgotten about midway into the film’s third act. Who has time to connect plot dots when there are heads to scalp in half and limbs to dismember? Not Tarsem, that’s for sure. And (cue the self-loathing) there are no major complaints here.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)