Reviewed by: David Graham

"Immortals could and should have been so much more."

From the producers of 300 comes a film even more bloated, incoherent, repetitive and generally soul-destroying than that sub-videogame, history-defiling comic book adap proved to be. Following hot on the heels of last year's underwhelming Clash Of The Titans, Hollywood takes another stab at Greek mythology, but squanders the country's rich seam of heroic lore even more disastrously than Louis The Transporter Leterrier managed. Attempting to evoke the Minotaur-challenging adventures of Theseus through the style of Renaissance paintings, Immortals is certainly a ravishing spectacle, and it delivers on the bone-crunching violence, but beneath the pristine surface it's as empty and shell-like as one of its CGI soldiers' helmets.

Theseus is a peasant unaware of being the son of the legendary Zeus, who finds himself on a journey of vengeance to defeat the wicked, God-defying king Hyperion. Theseus's mother was slain and village destroyed during the villain's search for the mystically-endowed Epirus Bow, with which he hopes to crush mankind by unleashing the deity-exiled Titans. As the two mortal enemies draw closer to a showdown, the Gods themselves become embroiled in the earthly war, threatening to upset the power balance they have established. A plucky oracle and a cunning thief may be Theseus's only mortal allies in his quest to defeat the evil Hyperion before he brings chaos to their world.

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For many, this film will chiefly be of interest as a taste of what we can expect from young Brit star Henry Cavill in the next Superman reboot; in that regard there's not much to report. He's a pretty bog-standard buffed-up himbo, his Theseus at least looking the part here more than anachronistic charisma-vortex Sam Worthington did as Perseus. Hopes for Immortals will also be raised by the presence of visual dynamo Tarsem in the director's chair, but the balance of luscious style and emotional substance he achieved with his epic sophomore picture The Fall is conspicuous by its absence here; even his much-lambasted Se7en-cribbing debut The Cell had a modicum of narrative finesse around which his memorable images were framed. And let's not get started on the 3D...

The action - when it occasionally deigns fit to arrive - is suitably vicious and imaginatively-staged, with a nice balance between surprisingly long, fluid shots of impressive choreography and CGI-enhanced, slo-mo flourishes that linger on all sorts of brutal death-dealing carnage. It's all a good deal more bloodthirsty than the recent Conan reboot, even if the battles could do with a little more of that film's real-life locations and sets. Somehow there's a fatal lack of charm to these bouts though; the washed-out colors seem too close to 300's visual palette, while the endless onslaught of faceless foes and pirouetting, speed-varying camera moves proves as alienating as the set-pieces in the god-awful Sucker Punch. Zack Snyder certainly has a lot to answer for.

It's a real shame, as Tarsem obviously knows how to compose an artful shot (even if many of them are swiped from early Jodorowsky), and puts regular collaborator Eiko Ishioka's outlandish costume work through its paces. Even her contribution is a little off however; it's nice to see such familiar concepts as the Minotaur and the Greek Gods given some new garb, but they seem to scream to be admired rather than adding to a consistent vision. Some of the insectoid head-wear and camp golden body-armour will have audiences chuckling into their popcorn rather than gazing in awe. Similarly, the computer-generated backgrounds mesh well with the human element, but they're curiously one-note and feel a little bland despite their obvious beauty. There are only so many heavenly sunsets and dusty mountains a viewer can take before fatigue sets in and the heightened reality of the likes of Troy seems a tad more appealing.

The acting is pretty haphazard at best; a variety of accents and appearances break the mythical illusion, while secondary characters fall by the wayside as if even the director has realized the actors weren't bringing much to the table. Mickey Rourke makes a strangely restrained baddie, coming on like his Expendables co-star Sylvester Stallone with a serious hangover. Freida Pinto proves once again to be as easy on the eyes as she is ineffectual as an actress, her love interest failing to spark any since she's never really in any danger. A variety of Brit thesps make for overly young and pretty gods, with only John Hurt's age-disguised Zeus bringing a knowing wink while collecting his cheque. Stephen Dorff is a welcome presence, bringing some cynical energy to his scenes with Cavill, but the latter is so devoid of personality that his hero routine never seems natural. Admittedly, it's a routine we've seen a thousand times before.

There's plenty of toned flesh on display, lots of blood and thunder swordplay, and a degree of visual spectacle that's perhaps wasted on such slim material. But Immortals could and should have been so much more, its exciting combination of a genuinely talented director, an inspired design approach, and classical tales of time-honored heroics failing to add up to a rousing adventure. There's obviously a huge market for this kind of fare at the moment, but even fantasy fans will feel short-changed by this potential-squandering mess; hopefully Tarsem's upcoming take on Snow White will see him successfully applying his unique sensibilities to something a little more engaging.

Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2011
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Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.
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Director: Tarsem Singh

Writer: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides

Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Joseph Morgan, Anne Day-Jones, Greg Bryk, Alan Van Sprang, Peter Stebbings, Daniel Sharman, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz, Steve Byers

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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