Movie Review – Immortals (2011)
by HELEN GEIB
Ancient Greece. The ruthless despot Hyperion leads a seemingly invincible army of invasion to destroy Hellenic civilization. He also seeks to destroy the Gods he reviles by freeing their ancient enemies the Titans, imprisoned since time immemorial under Mount Tartarus. The Gods on Mount Olympus watch the slaughter with revulsion and Hyperion’s approach to Tartarus with foreboding, but have been enjoined by Zeus not to interfere in the affairs of mankind. An oracle has seen Hyperion victorious in a vision, but she has also seen a young man who may stand against him, a peasant on the geographic and social fringes of the Greek world who is yet favored by the Gods because he has the makings of a true hero.
At one point in his Life of Theseus, Plutarch carefully compares the divergent and conflicting historical sources on a minor incident in the founder-hero’s career. Some of the writings he drew on are now known only from his references to them. Many other written accounts from antiquity have undoubtedly disappeared completely, along with all the tales that were never written down.
Immortals is an original story of the same Theseus of Minotaur and the labyrinth fame. It bears little resemblance to the standard version of the myth, which not incidentally gives the plot an element of unpredictability, and it is crafted to suit modern tastes in heroes and heroines. Nevertheless, it is a convincing counterfeit of a lost tale. Its coin is classical virtues: bravery, devotion, loyalty, piety.
This is the third feature film directed by Tarsem. His second film was the wondrous The Fall and his debut was the eye-popping The Cell. As anticipated on the basis of that filmography, Immortals looks amazing.
The visuals are inspired by Hellenic landscapes, representational art, architecture, and costume; everything rendered with a graphic arts sensibility, a fashionable approach to ancient world action movies that simultaneously complements the story’s mythological feel. The spatial disorder of the enemy’s camp is opposed by classical geometric symmetry. The square is a prominent motif: look for it in the cell block and pillar-statues of the Titans’ prison, the ritual prayer posture of the oracle and her three companions, and the raised platform at the heart of the labyrinth. In one particularly memorable scene, the camera, from the vantage of a perpendicular side view, pans across a close quarters battle to animate a temple frieze. The predominant colors are dusky earth tones, contrasting with the flame red of the oracle’s robes and the radiant gold of the Gods’ raiment.
The cast stands up well on the whole to the visual splendor. Henry Cavill makes an attractive and sympathetic hero in the somewhat underwritten role of Theseus. Mickey Rourke brings his trademark brooding intensity and ruin of a face to Hyperion. The other major parts are taken by Freida Pinto as the oracle Phaedra, Stephen Dorff as Theseus’ sidekick Stavros, Joseph Morgan as a turncoat Greek soldier, and Luke Evans and John Hurt tag-teaming Zeus, in his true guise and in disguise.
3 1/2 stars