(by Dustin Putman
Greek mythology and Renaissance art spring into phantasmagoric motion in "Immortals," and there is very nearly not a sign of life amongst any of it. "Caravaggio meets 'Fight Club'," is how director Tarsem (2000's surrealistic, psychologically complex "The Cell") has described his ambitious, no doubt daunting aesthetic aims, and that's a fairly accurate description. The trouble is that the filmmaker has dedicated such attention to his picture's look that he has displaced all hints of feeling. A tad more impressionistic but in many ways just like 2007's "300," it all boils down to buff adults playing dress-up in front of green screens without a thing of consequence to say or do when they're not ripping apart or beheading their adversaries. In between the meticulously choreographed swordplay is an absolutely deadening pace and tone, so gloomily self-serious that whatever pleasure one might have gained from the sights of pretty people and graphic violence is rendered null and void. Article continues below
In Greece, 1228 B.C., Theseus (Henry Cavill) is living a simple peasant's life on a quaint cliff enclave when all that he knows and cares for is threatened by King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a scarred, unpleasant sort searching for the Epirus Bow, a weapon capable of destroying humanity. As King Hyperion prepares to unleash the legion of Titans from the abyss of Mount Tartarus, the gods of Olympus up above lay in wait, determined not to involve themselves in mortal matters until they, too, are threatened and retaliation is necessary. When Theseus' mother (Anne Day-Jones) is slaughtered at the hands of King Hyperion, it is the catalyst in coming to understand and embrace his destiny as a man, a god, and a savior. With trusty slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and virginal oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) by his side, Theseus prepares for the battle of his life.
"Immortals" is stodgy and cramped even as it ravishes, with so many scenes looking to take place on the same rocky seaside studio set that it fast becomes monotonous. For all of the majestic CGI-painted landscapes and establishing shots of warriors in combat, a sure-fire sign of their artificial nature is that the film never voyages into these tableaus to suitably explore the action and surroundings. Instead, the viewer stands at a distance, disappointingly left unsatisfied by the fauxness of its razzle-dazzlement. When the camera does move closer, it is usually for interminably forgettable dialogue exchanges between characters whom the viewer has no reason to be invested in. They're all just a bunch of stick figures with tight abs.
Judged on imagery alone, the movie is more interesting than it actually is (then again, an accounting lecture would be more interesting than this movie actually is). The opening scene is a ghastly stunner, a glimpse at the ashen Titans at Mount Tartarus trapped in a Hellish cube from which there appears to be no escape. Other scenes, like an engulfing tsunami that forms on the shore or an amazing aerial war between gods so briefly captured at the end that it might as well be a mirage of the far superior film this could have been, impress only on a conceptual level. Fight set-pieces are a little more coherent than they were in "300," at least at the onset (there is a superb unbroken shot as Theseus acts with primal force when his doomed mom is put into harm's way), but they hold no actual apprehension or intensity. With one-note characters so poorly handled that it's not even worth trying to figure out who they are, who should we care about? Even resident hero Theseus, played by Henry Cavill (2009's "Whatever Works") in what can only be a rickety bridge to brighter pastures, is uninvolving as a protagonist, appearing to be slightly grumpy rather than devastated by his mother's murder.
Not even tongue-in-cheek enough to work as camp or satire—don't bother searching for the gay subtext, because there is none—"Immortals" was written without a sense of humor or personality by Charles Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides. The only comedy found is of the unintentional variety, and anyone looking for a character to emotionally latch onto had best wander into a different film. What's left is dangerously close to equating to nothingness, flashy visuals at the service of a rote, empty-headed plot and the sort of energy that can only be matched by an overworked paralysis patient. When half of your would-be thrilling climax in a big-budget blockbuster happens to take place in a dank hallway with low-hanging ceilings, maybe it should have been looked upon as a sign that retooling was desperately needed. Heck, when one of your final shots—a setup for a sequel?—is more provocative and alarming and eerie and vibrant than anything that has gone before it, what does that say about the film in question? No two ways about it, "Immortals" is an impeccably dressed yawnfest.