You would think a swords and sandals mythical epic would have to go a long way to be worse than the remake of Clash of the Titans, a thunking, cliché-ridden snorefest in pointless 3D, where Titans completely failed to clash. However, Tarsem Singh’s Immortals proves it was actually quite easy, bringing a cinematic turkey to the screen just in time for Thanksgiving.
The story follows Theseus, played by Henry Cavill, soon to be seen in Man of Steel, the upcoming Superman reboot, who rises predictably from a peasant who sees his mother murdered at the hands of a power-hungry warlord to the leader of the resistance and is eventually accepted into the heavens for his exploits. The young Theseus, who just happens to be an expert with a sword, regardless of his inauspicious upbringing, escapes from the clutches of Mickey Rourke’s Hyperion with a Virgin Oracle (Freida Pinto, and let’s guess whether she remains a virgin by the end, in the most redundant romantic entanglement seen in a while) to find the Epirus Bow, a weapon with such power it could release the Titans from their prison within Mount Tartarus.
The film starts with the obligatory mythical narration, read by voice of the moment John Hurt, who happens to be playing the earth-bound version of Zeus. While Hurt does have an almost perfect run on otherworldy knowledge and wisdom, he is put against Cavill, who displays a wooden performance reminiscent of Orlando Bloom at his worst, in a character that should be far more interesting given the classical nature of the plot. In an early fight scene, Theseus wastes no time in getting his shirt off (because you can’t battle with it on) in an effort simply to show how much muscle he put on for the role. Later on, in delivering a rousing speech, Cavill sounds as if he is the head of a 6th form trying to get the chairs arranged in time for parents evening. You do not believe for a second that he has the leadership or charisma to persuade his band of soldiers to fight against a huge army (and changing their minds takes roughly four seconds).
Mickey Rourke looked to have resurrected his career with his BAFTA-winning performance in The Wrestler a few years back, but this is him completely ringing in his role. He growls through in an unthreatening monotone, with no discernable facial expressions whatsoever. His character is also completely undermined by serious plot defects; for example, why, if you have a bow with unprecedented power, that can break through the impenetrable wall with one shot, do you then proceed to let your army fight and die in gaining you passage through? Just use the bow again. And if your wall is an impenetrable fortress blocking an evil warlord from freeing the Titans, why is there a staircase at the entrance that leads him straight there?
However, as seen in 300, the film which this owes most to, you don’t need a totally coherent and intelligent plot if you’ve got amazing fight scenes. Unfortunately, Immortals gets these wrong as well. Most scraps are shot in slow motion and therefore lose the visceral element of action. The film was cut down from an 18 certificate to get a larger audience, but in the end it just get stuck in the middle ground. It’s easy to see where the cuts were implemented, so death by eye gouging and castration by giant hammer (yes, I said GIANT HAMMER) are sanitised down so the moments lose their effectiveness.
In addition, moments of potential tension are mishandled, in particular, the use of the Minotaur. Described in Greek mythology as “part man, part bull”, this interpretation has the Minotaur as essentially Hyperion’s bodyguard, a man in a bull mask sent off to Theseus’ hometown to dispatch the protagonist, in a tiny labyrinth which is the burial ground of his people. This could have been an intense chase sequence with horror elements reminiscent of the conclusion of The Shining, but instead the two opponents throw each other around a single room until one stands victorious.
Essentially, Immortals has potential on paper, as do all classical narratives, but it seems that many filmmakers find it hard transforming them into exciting and interesting movies. Hamstrung by a few poor performances and a script entirely without sparkle, Immortals is very much a crushing disappointment.