Review: Immortals (15) / Directed by: Tarsem Singh / Written by: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides / Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Frieda Pinto, John Hurt
Immortals is only Tarsem Singh’s third feature and it’s easy to dismiss him as an incredible visualist who fails to command story or keep hold of narrative, let alone deliver nuance and drama to proceedings. This graphic novel-style fantasy comes across as a sort of heavy metal Flash Gordon directed by somebody with encyclopaedic knowledge of art history.
His debut, The Cell, was a surrealist slice of hokum and the same can be said here. Only The Fall appears to have been touched by a fleeting greatness. Perhaps since it’s a remake of an obscure Bulgarian picture from the 1980s, Tarsem was on safer ground than usual.
Immortals places itself (loosely) within the aesthetic world of Zack Snyder’s 300, which is really like a spiritual cousin, and wraps itself around Greek mythology rather than ancient history. However this is less ‘clash of the titans’ and more meshing of art periods.
Theseus (Henry Cavill) teams up with oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) and a band of rogues to find a mystical bow and arrow. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is also after said items in order to unleash the titans trapped inside a prison which lies inside a mountain. Zeus (Luke Evans) believes Theseus can stop the evil king from destroying the world, but that doesn’t stop Poisedon (Kellan Lutz) and Athena (Isabel Lucas) from meddling in affairs.
What causes problems for Immortals is lack of emotional depth and the story is perfunctory at best. Yes, even though it’s a fantasy film connection and resonance is needed for a movie to ultimately succeed. Here we’ve only the imagery to savour. This was always the concern with Immortals and initial fears prove correct. Therefore despite having some truly breathtaking compositions and tableaux on display it’s devoid of life.
The director described his approach as ‘electric Caravaggio’ and to this we can add S&M leather gear, Giotto-like religious compositions, Max Ernst style landscapes and costumes by Oscar-winning designer Eiko Ishioka (who has done sterling work in all of Tarsem’s films). One of Frieda Pinto’s dresses recalls Ernst’s the Disrobing of the Bride painting. It always treads a fine line between gorgeous and empty with the latter winning out on final consideration.
The action scenes are shot well and employ slow motion for extra bone-crunching effect. The 3D is like all 3D in this current crop – totally unnecessary.
Cavill's performance is rather bland and Tarsem’s handling of archetypes is certainly not archetypal. Mickey Rourke looks to be having fun riffing off Marlon Brando’s ponderous turn in Apocalypse Now. There’s even a scene of him rambling, cast in a half light, just in case you don’t get where the actor’s coming from. Quite why Tarsem and Rourke thought such open homage was the way to go rather than create a fresh character is very weak creatively.
The best compliment one can give Immortals is to say it’s much better than Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake. Still that feels like a back-handed jibe. This is a curious work in all. Definitely not the sum of its parts but the costume designs and even the cinematography could well be up for a few awards early next year.
But if Tarsem is to truly succeed as a director he needs to get a much better handle on narrative and not rely so much on providing admittedly incredible mise-en-scène. For him, that’s shooting fish in a barrel.
Of course we can also argue cinema is more than narrative but he’s working in the mainstream Hollywood milieu, which although he can struggle with the concept of storytelling and get lost in MTV aesthetics and the tyranny of special effects, Tarsem needs to shape up if anybody is going to give a damn about his films.
Only for the briefest of moments does Immortals ever come alive. It’s not a chore to sit through but you’ll find yourself wanting more engagement than staring at pretty pictures and epic, CG battles and vistas. One can revel in Ishioka’s superb costumes and appreciate the production design – as one would do in art gallery – but there’s something missing here. Alas, the final shot is absolutely magnificent.
Expected rating: 8 out of 10
'The Immortals' hits cinemas November 11th