"The Gods Need a Hero." Or perhaps they’re holding out for one. Regardless, that’s the tagline for visionary director Tarsem Singh’s new mythological action adventure film "Immortals." It seems sad that the gods would be so powerless that even they need a hero. But in the story of Theseus, that is exactly what they get.
Years ago, there was a battle in heaven between the Olympian gods and the Titans--another race of powerful deities that were then banished and imprisoned by the Olympians somewhere in Greece. Years later, the King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, growling his way through the script) declares war on humanity and desperately seeks the legendary Epirus Bow, a weapon created by the war God Ares (Daniel Sharman.) With this bow, he can release the Titans, who will then seek revenge on the Olympians and, eventually, destroy the human race.
But the god Zeus (Luke Evans) has disguised himself as an old man (John Hurt) who secretly guides and trains a young peasant named Theseus in the art of war. As an adult, Theseus (Henry Cavill) is a master of the sword and an expert with a bow and arrow. He can also cage match with the best of them.
When Hyperion is discovered to be on his way to their village seeking the Epirus Bow, the city flees, but Theseus (who doesn’t believe in the gods) and his devoutly religious mother Aethra (Anne Daye-Jones) are stopped from leaving and told they will have to wait a day because of their less-than-desirable reputations. Angry, Theseus duels with the local army and wins the respect of the commander. When he is offered a place with them, he declines, not wanting to honor a leader he doesn’t respect.
Hyperion discovers the city before Theseus and Aethra can leave, and Aethra is killed. Theseus swears revenge and is hauled away to work in the salt mines. While there, the oracle Pheadra (Frieda Pinto) and her three handmaidens are captured and thrown in with the mine workers. When Phaedra accidentally touches Theseus, she has a vision that he will be a great hero and takes it upon herself to make sure he survives. Before you can say "mutiny," Theseus, Phaedra, and new warrior-buddies Stravros (Stephen Dorff), Dareios (Alan Van Sprang), and a tortured Monk (Greg Byrk) escape and plan to stop Hyperion.
But first, Phaedra tells Theseus, he must bury his mother. When he does so in the temple where she always worshipped, he discovers the Epirus Bow buried in the walls. This makes him a target--and a hero in the making--and all hell breaks loose.
Meanwhile, the Olympian gods watch helplessly from above as they are not allowed to meddle in human undertakings. Only if the Titans are released can they get involved. The results will call upon Theseus to be a hero, the gods to have patience, and Hyperion to (hopefully) get what’s coming to him, all in a world that is both remarkably fake looking, but stunningly beautiful.
This is the calling card of Tarsem Singh. His films ("The Cell," "The Fall") have always been a bit awkward in their storytelling, but no one can deny the rapturous beauty they bring to the screen. Like a Technicolor Armani ad come to life, "Immortals" is best when it focuses on the stunning production design by Tom Foden and the remarkable costumes by Eiko Ishioka. Jaw-droppingly shot by cinematographer Brendan Galvin, Singh said he wanted to make a "really hard-core action film done in Renaissance painting style." That’s exactly what you get, and one reason the film looks so fake. But it’s a freaking awesome-looking fake, and knowing what he is going for it makes you appreciate it that much more.
Character-wise, Singh still needs to bump up the emotional involvement of his audience, but in his third film he’s getting closer to realizing that needed connection. It’s one thing to have a film look amazing, it’s another for us to feel something as well. Cavill (the new Superman) helps achieve this by being a compelling onscreen presence. He makes us care enough that the goings-on don’t just seem like a means to get to the next set piece. He is clearly a star of tomorrow, and a welcome one at that.
While it’s hard to understand half of what Mickey Rourke says, he is portrayed so brutally that he makes for a delicious villain. Pinto’s Phaedra is exquisite in her appearance, and does her best with a one-note role--even when she simply appears to be posing for a perfume advertisement. The supporting cast is able and game, with Dorff adopting his usual bad-boy persona that he so badly seems to want to convince us he is. (He’s a little too short and slight to be believable, but you can tell he wants to be an action star so badly you almost root for him.) Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, and the rest of the gods and Warriors are effective in their small roles, not only in their line delivery but in making every male in the audience have the burning desire to run to the gym after the credits start to roll.
"Immortals" is a brutal film, but it’s also so highly stylized that it avoids coming across as gratuitous. What comes across gratuitous is the script, which isn’t as involving as the filmmakers would like you to think, nor is it that profound. This is a movie that is so over-the-top that you just have to go with it. It’s not always logical and it’s never truly believable, but it’s so much damn fun that it puts earlier efforts like the dreadful "Clash of the Titans" and the ridiculous "300" to shame.
Compared to those films, this is art. Every shot is like a painting come to life and even when you’re not fully invested--or maybe even confused by all the Greek names being bandied about--you can’t help but be dazzled by the images that come flying off the screen; Literally, as this was converted to 3D.
Theseus :: Henry Cavill
Stavros :: Stephen Dorff
Athena :: Isabel Lucas
Phaedra :: Freida Pinto
Zeus :: Luke Evans
Poseidon :: Kellan Lutz
Old Zeus :: John Hurt
King Hyperion :: Mickey Rourke
Director, Tarsem Singh; Screenwriter, Charles Parlapanides; Screenwriter, Vlas Parlapanides; Producer, Gianni Nunnari; Producer, Mark Canton; Producer, Ryan Kavanaugh; Executive Producer, Tucker Tooley; Executive Producer, Tommy Turtle; Executive Producer, Jeff G. Waxman; Executive Producer, Jeff Waxman; Executive Producer, Jason Felts; Cinematographer, Brendan Galvin; Production Design, Tom Foden; Costume Designer, Eiko Ishioka.