300 is one of my all-time favorite films, so when a movie claims to be it’s successor, I tend to take notice. The movie that made this claim was Immortals, the latest 3D sword-and-sandals epic to be churned out in Hollywood lately. However, unlike the last few, for some reason the film looked intriguing to me, not in the least because of some superb looking action scenes and a cast list that includes some great names and talent.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few warning bells going off in my head prior to seeing the movie. While it may boast a stellar cast and production crew, the director Tarsem Singh is responsible for creating a couple of visually pleasant turds by the name of The Cell and The Fall. Plus, it really goes without saying that 3D sword-and-sandals films do not have a good track record so far, with Clash of the Titans ending up bland and forgettable and the creators of the Conan the Barbarian remake deserve to be crucified to the Tree of Woe. Above all else, I knew next to nothing about the film itself, and the trailer, while having some cool looking action scenes, gave me no reason to believe this film couldn’t be as terrible as Clash or Conan. Of course, once upon a time, so did 300, so with a little trepidation, and encouraging a few friends to join me, I went to see Immortals.
So did Immortals live up to it’s epic potential to succeed 300, or will it be an epic travesty like all the rest? I’ll put it’s name to the test in my latest film review.
The story opens thousands of years ago, following a civil war in the heavens, with the victorious Gods imprisoning their defeated wicked counterparts, the Titans, deep within Mount Tartarus. Fast forward a few hundred years, and the brutal King Hyperion, blaming the Gods for the death of his wife and child, seeks to find the Epirus Bow, a legendary weapon from the God’s civil war with which he hopes to free the Titans, in hopes that they will kill the Gods who failed him. Having sworn not to interfere in the affairs of men, Zeus mentors a young man named Theseus, believing him to be the best man to oppose Hyperion’s hordes. Though reluctant to get involved at first, after the death of his mother and the encouragements of the alluring oracle Phaedra, Theseus takes up arms and sets out on an unlikely quest to save Greece and the Gods from the fury of Hyperion and the Titans.
Though no doubt a number of you familiar with Greek mythology are cringing at the ‘liberties’ taken with the source material, and I will admit that was a big part of the reason I was cautious about the film, especially after the last few films that did that (Mentioning Beowulf still sends me into a blood-rage). In the end though, the story itself suffers little for it, and some of the liberties taken are well used (the Gods can die) and others are not (the Minotaur is big man in a mask). As for the story itself, while it lacks the emotional punch and spirit of 300, it far exceeds the storytelling of similar sword-and-sandals epics like Clash of the Titans or Conan the Barbarian, while avoiding becoming dull and monotonous like Troy or Alexander. While the story is far from perfect, the ending in particular left me disappointed, it is still an enjoyable one to watch unfold, despite some small flaws that hold it back.
No doubt a huge part of what made it so enjoyable was its cast and characters, with most of the strength coming from some surprisingly strong performances from nearly everyone in the film. The best of the film is no doubt Mickey Rourke, whom plays the brutal and unforgiving warlord Hyperion, and in the process giving us what may be the years best film villain. We have a relentless monster of a man who takes a sadistic pleasure in killing people, by his own hand or executing them in the brazen bull, while providing the same depth of character Rourke always provides, with his fury genuinely spouting from grief over the loss of his family, and his desire to see the Gods suffer for it.
In contrast, we have Henry Cavill, who as Theseus, gives us a similarly very strong performance as our hero, showing the potential of becoming one at the start of a film and growing into one before our eyes on screen, and pulling off the switch well. Having never seen him act before outside of the occasional episode of The Tudors, watching him here gave me some much needed faith in the upcoming Man of Steel film, with Cavill giving a perfect showing here. Similarly, Luke Evans, who plays the God Zeus, has given me yet another reason to look forward to the Hobbit films. Freida Pinto, the Indian actress from Slumdog Millionaire, plays the oracle Phaedra, and giving an enchantingly alluring performance along the way. Film legend John Hurt gives a brief, yet powerful turn as Theseus’ elder mentor, and Stephen Dorff providing a surprisingly likable performance as the snarky thief Stavros.
Where the movie itself truly excels is the cinematography, which is to say the least is a visual feast. While I may not be a fan of his prior work, the director Tarsem has a talent for creating some truly stunning set and scenery designs. The colors of nearly everything provide some superb contrasts, and while some aspects are laughable (some of the costumes are utterly ridiculous), and some of the designs questionable (for a movie set in Greece, there are a lot of Indian flavored designs), as a whole I loved the look of the movie. Especially the fight scenes, which true to the claim, are among the best since 300, as well as providing some a notably brutal hand-to-hand fight between Rourke and Cavill. One of the best surprises of the movie however was the 3D, which largely thanks to those same colorful and contrasting scenes, is one of the best live action films I’ve ever seen in the format, and the action scenes alone are worth the extra price on the ticket.
In the end, I will confess, Immortals surprised me, and in all the best ways. The acting was top notch, ans the cast very likable. The fight scenes are very well executed, providing something for fans of sword fights, traditional beat ’em ups, and 300-style slow-mo. The visual direction is superb, and is made even better with the 3D. While the story is certainly weaker than the rest of the movie, it doesn’t hold the movie back. As a whole, while falling just short of reaching the same plateau as 300, it is leagues better than the last few 3D sword-and-sandals epics to hit the big screen, and I would happily see it again, and likely will.
While it has it’s flaws, in the end, Immortals proved to be a violent, visually pleasing action fantasy that proved well worth the admission price. It is easily one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year, and I highly recommend it.