A film review by Craig J. Koban November 17, 2011


2011, PG-13, 110 mins.


Theseus: Henry Cavill / King Hyperion: Mickey Rourke / Stavros: Stephen Dorff / Phaedra: Freida Pinto / Zeus: Luke Evans / Old Man: John Hurt / Joseph: Morgan Lysander / Aethra: Anne Day-Jones / The Monk: Greg Bryk / Dareios: Alan Van Sprang / Helios: Peter Stebbings / Aries: Daniel Sharman / Athena: Isabel Lucas

Directed by Tarsem  / Screenplay by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides


IMMORTALS is a sword and sandals/mythological orgy of blood curdling violence and volcanic carnage…but it’s also one of the most exquisitely and sumptuously shot fantasy films you’re likely to see all year.  

We have all heard the credo of “all style, no substance” and no more is it apparent than in this film.  IMMORTALS is an eye-gasmic assault on the senses as a pure visual experience, but a completely negligible one on a character and story front.  Yet, the film is nonetheless a stirring visionary achievement unlike any other similar genre efforts, so much so that you willing to overlook its tedious narrative, one-note characters, and giggle-inducing dialogue. 

What saves the $80 million IMMORTALS is precisely the primal act of just sitting back and actively experiencing all of its wondrous sights.  It is the third film I’ve seen directed by (as he’s listed officially in the credits) by Tarsem Dhandwar Singh (who has often gone by the singular moniker Tarsem, and I will opt to refer to as such for review purposes here).  The 50-year-old Indian filmmaker launched his stellar career with 2000’s THE CELL (on my list of that year’s best) that had an outstandingly novel premise of an FBI agent literally going into the mind of a mad serial killer to solve a case.  He followed up that film’s labyrinth of intoxicating imagery with the even more hallucinogenic and breathtaking THE FALL (on my list of that year’s best), a PRINCESS BRIDE-esque fairy tale that I thought was one of the most stunningly envisioned and shot films I have ever seen. 

Plot and characters be damned, though, in most of Tarsem’s films: what matters and counts most in them are their startlingly realized visual splendors; the fact that they override just about every other storytelling impulse is to be predicted, I guess.  All of Tarsem’s films – IMMORTALS included – are engines to wow us.  IMMORTALS joyously pulls influences from sources as far ranging as ancient Greek myth, high fashion, classic Renaissance paintings, comic books, and, yes, a bit of the hyper macho, adrenaline induced, and bare-chested aesthetic of 300 and CLASH OF THE TITANS.  Tarsem has set out to evoke a time and world in IMMORTALS that’s immediately ravishing and transportive; like all great out-of-body escapist epics, the more you sit through it the less aware you become of your current surroundings.   

As for the story?  Meh.  There was once a bloody ancient war won by the Gods, led by Zeus (Luke Evans) who subsequently imprisoned the Titans beneath Mount Taratarus.  On the more human plane of existence, the King Of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, in perpetual scenery – and crustacean – chewing mode) has become angry with the gods after they failed to answer his prayers to save his family.  As a result, he has become a vile, vindictive, and villainous ball-buster (literally) of a tyrant, hell bent on ruling over the lands while searching for the Epirus Bow, a weapon that was created by the God of War, Ares.  If found and harnessed, Hyperion would be able to release the Titans and destroy all those in front of him. 



In order locate his prized item, Hyperion seeks out to kidnap the virgin oracle, Phaedra (the lusciously beautiful Frieda Pinto), whom he believes can “see” the future and the location of the bow.  Luckily for her, she is saved just before Hyperion’s goon squad can snatch her by Theseus (Henry Cavill), who has a deeply vented grudge against Hyperion, seeing as he brutally murdered his mother when he and his troops raided their village.  Theseus has his own squadron of tough as nails warriors (one including a nefarious thief, Starvos, played by the somewhat out-of-place and too contemporary sounding Stephen Dorf) that try to protect Phaedra from Hyperion getting his hands on her and, in turn, getting the bow.  All while this is happening, Zeus and his other fellow gods look down on Earth while all of these events are going on, primarily because they have a strict code to never, ever interfere with mortals and their cause.  They can, however, influence men, which is what Zeus has been doing for years: he has frequently assumed the form of an old man (played by John Hurt) that has trained Theseus for decades for the battle to come against Hyperion.  By the time the film careens to its climax, you just know that there is no way that the Gods are just gonna sit idle. 

On a negative, IMMORTALS suffers from a pathetic lack of warmth and humor, mostly because it carries a level of frustrating self-importance all throughout its running time (something that 300 and CLASH OF THE TITANS did not suffer from).  The overall narrative itself is a perfunctory, ponderous, and dime-a-dozen chronicle of a seemingly insignificant man that has been prophesized to rid the world of evil (been there, done that).  When the script’s plot does not bore you with its tedium, then its frequent, eye-rollingly funny dialogue passages will, which are all given by the actors so sternly and regally as if there were performing Shakespeare.     

The cast is quite well assembled, though: it’s especially enjoyable to see Rourke rowdily inhabit his blood lusting, control-freak villain with a putrid lack of self control and decorum: he exists to perversely see others suffer.  Henry Cavill certainly does not have the fire and brimstone bravado of Gerald Butler’s King Leonidas, but he does have charm and charisma (he will make a very good Superman next year in THE MAN OF STEEL).  Frieda Pinto may not have tangible chemistry with Cavill, but she nevertheless looks exquisite, as always.  Please note, though, that her nude love scenes with Cavill involve her using a body double (damn you, movie gods; why do you forsake us??!!). 

Again, the story and characters don’t precisely matter here: all that does it the film’s artifice, which makes bravura usage of real sets, ample CGI work, lavish and exquisite costumes (Eiko Ishioka’ work here is now the frontrunner for Oscar consideration) and - surprise, surprise - unobtrusive 3D that does not punish the eyes and induce instant migraine headaches.  There are rarely moments in the film during which I was not transfixed with its pageant of bewitching imagery:  Just look at the Titans' prison cells, for example, made of granite and buried in a mountain for eons that houses them standing upright, chained, and with all them perpetually chomping down on iron rods.  The Greek villages are carved into mountains and cliffs with breathtaking views of the ocean.  Even Hyperion’s camp is marvelously envisioned, with its demonic minions looking like they were juicily ripped out of the most hellish paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. 

The film is also enjoyable because it does not wuss out: IMMORTALS is a very, very hard-R rated action fantasy, and its mayhem – filmed with a clarity and precision, unlike so many other films lately – shows a slow-mo-pornographic attention to stabbings, slashings, beheadings, bones cracking, exploding faces, brain mater, and so on.  The action climax of the film is a thunderously dazzling, sensationally gory, and stomach churningly extreme carnival of man vs. man vs. Gods vs. Titans…but isn’t that what we all wanted out of this film?  IMMORTALS is a singular work that never apologizes for its eccentric artistic excesses.  It’s ostentatious eye candy and its silver screen canvas is wall-to-wall with sights that never cease to astonish.  It’s rare for me to simply recommend a film based solely and superficially on its looks, but IMMORTALS most certainly deserves commendation for them.  

And how. 

  H O M E