Film Review: Immortals
Workaholic commercials director and sporadic filmmaker Tarsem Dhandwar Singh (as he’s credited this time) is a tough nut to crack. Part haute couture fetishist, part mainstream proto-auteur. For someone with only four films to his name to far including upcoming Snow White adaptation Mirror, Mirror (due in March 2012) and the little seen curio The Fall (as well as the J-Lo cyberpunk oddity The Cell), he’s certainly been gaining momentum in the past few years. Although that would depend on how you gauge his identity as a filmmaker, even with three films on release (two on the shelves, one in theatres) is he really so unique? Arguably Judy Taymor already popularised sculptural headwear and flaky bodypaint, Zhang Yimou has already had his way with swathes of boldly coloured armies and Ken Russell paved the way before them with his stylised production design for The Devils. Immortals doesn’t necessarily represent a leap for Tarsem, the film itself represents the work of someone familiar with the ins and outs of mainstream movies and yet able to sell his OTT aesthetic hard enough to the Hollywood machine.
As a work of entertainment however, it’s a mixed bag. Tarsem can certainly command us through the narrative visually, we know who the good and bad guys are: a good start there (elementary though it may be) and he certainly doesn’t skimp on the bone cracking (if generic) slow-mo infused action. Though he loses his way in regard to how to ground his story. Zeus and co may be bright gold, but their mortal counterparts often look as divine. Such stylisation blurs our reaction to the onscreen events and we become disconnected. Not helped by the simplistic character donation; the Theif, the Oracle and the Old Man etc. Made worse by the fact many characters appear to go unnamed or the fact that we are expected to know who many of them are, sure we recognise Poseidon with his spear but this won’t mean squat for the uninitiated. A little geography would have helped as well, characters travel far and yonder and yet we never know where their enemies are in relation to them. Minor quibbles for any other film, but with storytelling this simplistic it begs for clarity. Even a silent movie would have at least shown us a map.
The performances don’t offer anything above adequate nor unremarkable; Henry Cavill is serviceable as Theseus although one wonders how exactly he is going to fare as the Man of Steel. For the moment however, he’s no Chris Pine in the charisma stakes but he’s thankfully no Hayden Christensen either. We’ll wait and see in regard to his future. Steven Dorff is underused, Freida Pinto has nothing to do beyond appear. Mickey Rourke growls and executes an unlucky henchman in every scene, only Luke Evans as Zeus is able to maintain any gravity among the weak supporting cast. In fact, for a film called Immortals it is odd that the film isn’t about them rather than the mortals. Certainly, Tarsem clearly set out to make a pop video-fable about the nature of belief (give him credit, he’s brainer than Zack Snyder) but when the predicament of the mortals is so dull (how many revenge motivations are we on now?) the infighting and animosity amongst the Olympians becomes the most compelling of the entire movie.
The film to its credit does share the intriguing idea of gods killing each other, as well as a refreshingly bleak outlook on Greek mythology missing from previous renditions (Clash of the Titans etc) and much closer in tone to the original stories themselves. Admittedly, Clash had a better soundtrack and 300 was more coherant. Visually there is little to fault (outside of clearly rubber breastplates and paint peeling off shields in one particular scene) and the cast isn’t terrible. 3D-wise, for a post-production conversion will give your money’s worth with little to complain about. What’s missing is any significance, it is as hollow as you’d expect from something so ornate. Perfunctory but hardly stupid, that said you’d expect better from something so excessive.