Immortals (2011) Review

If adaptations are Hollywood’s bread and butter, then reboots and remakes are the jam and marmalade that sometimes substitute as spread. Since there are only so many popular comic book franchises to go around, it makes sense that the film industry would tap into other works, like Greek Mythology. Immortals presents a fresh take on the familiar stories, offering stunning visuals, excellent acting and exciting action. It’s not quite an epic film and it could stand to take itself a little more seriously, but otherwise audiences will have a fantastic time in the theater.

According to the film, a war raged between immortal beings, resulting in the victors imprisoning the defeated within Mount Tartarus.  The conquerors were known as gods while the conquered were dubbed titans, who thirsted for revenge. Many generations have passed since the conflict between the immortals, and humanity has long since forgotten the gods, discounting them as fairy tales. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) takes the absence of the gods in his life personally when his family dies from disease. He becomes bent on discovering the Epirus Bow, which is fabled to have the power to release the titans from their prison. Unfortunately, only a virgin oracle (Freida Pinto) knows the bow’s location. It resides in the seaside town of a peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill) whose life is shattered when Hyperion’s army invades his village and kills his mother. Fortunately for Theseus, Zeus (Luke Evans) and other gods favor him, placing Theseus on a path to stop Hyperion from destroying humanity.

Immortals is fertile ground for an epic story – a cruel and overwhelming force sweeps the land, forcing the lowliest of citizens to rise up from the ashes and resist – but the film never quite reaches for that high of drama. Instead, Immortals leans more toward being slick and flashy. Don’t expect great character or plot development. In fact, many actions in the film don’t feel properly motivated, like Theseus’ ally Stavros (Stephen Dorff) joining the fight against Hyperion for a silly reason even though certain death awaits him. Nevertheless, if audiences go in expecting epic-lite, then they will be very pleased.

The style of the film is beautiful to behold and presents delightful visuals that are rarely seen. Consider characters fighting by the oil-rich Black Sea only to be drenched by a gigantic wave, leaving them lacquered by a thick layer of oil in the very next scene. It’s a striking image and many more moments that follow are moving works of art. On the other hand, Immortals also looks synthetic and is artificial in many practical ways. The environment never shakes its soundstage feel and many moments in the film happen inorganically. It’s always a disappointment when a thrilling fight ends because one combatant decided to savor his impending victory rather than make the killing blow, allowing his foe to regain his strength.

Despite a few niggling disappointments, the action in the film is very good. Tarsem Singh and his team did a wonderful job in framing the fights and battles properly, giving audiences enough room to appreciate what’s going on, but still keeping them in the thick of things. Greek Mythology buffs will appreciate Theseus’ grappling skills; it’s just a shame the film didn’t develop his wrestling foundation. The best part of action sequences are the many creative deaths. The immortals possess superhuman powers that allow them to move at incredible speeds. Victims move in slow motion as gods obliterate them, sending viscera splattering all over the place. Despite its gruesomeness, the death and dismemberment is so over-the-top that it disconnects from reality and almost becomes a macabre form of modern art.

The highlight of the film is Mickey Rourke and it’s obvious that plenty of time went into developing his character. Rourke’s Hyperion is fearsome, unscrupulous, evil and tortured. What could have easily have been a typical, flat bad guy is instead a multi-dimensional character that could be sympathetic if it weren’t for everything he did and said to spurn sympathy. Little choices, like checking his nails after killing someone or spitting food in the middle of his speech really help bring Hyperion to life and prove Rourke’s commitment to his roles.

Finally, Immortals manages to bring something new to entertainment by presenting Greek gods as young people in the prime of their lives. After all, why wouldn’t gods shape their bodies in the most pleasing forms? It was also a very clever choice by the filmmakers to present the film as the true events that bore the myth, such as Theseus’ fight with the Minotaur. It’s just a shame the film didn’t do more for scholars and admirers of Greek Mythology.

Immortals is mostly fun, occasionally very dark and sometimes bordering on epic. Practical questions concerning siege warfare (Why not shoot down the entire wall with your weapon that shoots unlimited explosive artillery?) and defensive structures (Who built those stairs so close to the attacker’s side?) notwithstanding, audiences will easily overlook any shortcomings and surrender to the rush of this bloody thrill ride.