It’s hard not to compare Tarsem Singh’s Immortals to Zack Snyder’s historical epic 300 (and to a large extent also Clash of the Titans) Not only because they share some of the same producers but both feature stunning visuals, men fighting for honour (shouting battle cries with bare chests!) and stylized action sequences. But where Snyder’s film – the historically questionable beast that it is – gets by on its inventive action (if nothing else) Tarsem’s film doesn’t have strong enough action to carry the rest of the film.
Immortals takes place after an epic war that has split those who are now known as Gods from those who are now known as Titans. Zeus (Luke Evans) chooses a mortal man Theseus (Henry Cavill) to lead a war against the ruthless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) who is seeking a mystical bow which would help him destroy humanity.
The problem with Immortals is not that it doesn’t deliver enough action. In fact, it has more than its share of that to go around. But it’s the in-between segments that are the real issue here, feeling like whenever it stops for breath for another overly long, sometimes pointless exposition scene that you can’t wait for the next action scene to hurry up and come along. But even then the film is so horribly paced that the action comes not as a welcome surprise to inject the plot with excitement but feels rather random and ill-timed. It doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole.
This wouldn’t matter as much if the action itself was revolutionary or even genuinely thrilling. But with the exception of a few key scenes in which the action is truly dazzling – for its special effects-heavy stylization and use of slow-motion more than anything else – it is rather repetitive and even generic in a way, perhaps because we’ve seen this type of thing done before a lot better, namely in the aforementioned 300.
However underwhelming the action may be as a whole, the same can’t be said for Tarsem’s visual style. While his strength might not be in pace or great action, he certainly as a style all his own – his first film The Cell and particularly his previous film The Fall are visually unique and Immortals is certainly no exception. It’s certainly refreshing to see a big-budget Hollywood action film stand out from the crowd.
Tarsem, as well as brother screenwriting team Vlas and Charley Parlapanides, also do a solid job of allowing us to take the story completely seriously. Whereas something like this past summer’s Thor accomplished the same thing with a sense of humour, Immortals plays it straight faced and so its world is believable in context. Even when the costumes appear over-the-top and often silly (the gold outfits of the Gods are not entirely convincing on their own) if you buy into the overall story then you can believe in the things that inhabit it.
The cast is also quite impressive, from Henry Cavill as Theseus (our new Superman in the upcoming Man of Steel), Freida Pinto as the Phaedra the “Virgin Oricle” who can see the future and particularly Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion, making for a truly intimidating baddie that you can actually understand why he’d be such a formidable enemy for our slave heroes.
It’s almost more annoying for a film to have some strong redeeming qualities with some overshadowing weaknesses dragging it down than one that is bad all round, simply because it’s a case of massive wasted potential. Unfortunately Immortals is one of those films, a movie with some very cool moments, a solid cast and an amazing visual style virtually squandered by a often painfully sluggish pace and been-there-done-that action. A real shame.