It is very difficult for me not to get some enjoyment out of a movie that starts with a stentorian narrator providing exposition in grandiose language that begins with clauses like these: “When this world was still young, long before man or beast roamed these lands…” Such verbiage signals the imminent arrival of swords, myths, and nonsense, of men with hilarious names doing adventuresome things with serious looks on their faces, of fair maidens assisting in the retrieval of magic artifacts needed to prevent an evil force from ruining mankind. Movies like that, even when they aren’t exactly “good,” can be a lot of fun.
“Immortals” is almost that kind of movie, and might have been one if it had removed the dull parts and gotten the running time down from a ponderous 110 minutes to a more vigorous 90 or so. It feels bloated and pretentious in its current form, and those are not good attributes for a movie about an ancient Greek dude who mingles with gods and fights with titans and Mickey Rourke.
Rourke plays the villain, Hyperion, a brutal and cruel warrior-king who wants to rule all of Greece (it’s 1228 B.C.; Greece is still worth ruling). He and his army are going from village to village in search of a legendary bow that will enable Hyperion to unleash the titans from their prison, which I guess will help him somehow, although the movie isn’t clear on specifics. It seems like the newly freed titans would just kill everyone, including Hyperion. Anyway, he’s especially interested in locating the Virgin Oracles, a quartet of comely maidens with visionary powers who can tell him where the bow is.
Our hero is Theseus (Henry Cavill), a wholesome peasant boy who’s been trained in the fighting arts by a weird old man (John Hurt). After being taken as a slave by Hyperion’s army, Theseus encounters the aforementioned Virgins, enchantingly led by Phaedra (Frieda Pinto), who has had visions about Theseus. It seems he may be the Chosen One who is destined to thwart Hyperion. That’s a pretty big assignment! Good thing he worked on his abs!
Meanwhile, on Mt. Olympus, some of your various gods are debating whether to interfere and help the mortals. Good points are made on those sides, but Zeus (Luke Evans) comes down firmly against interfering, and his vote is final, because he’s the goddiest god.
The trouble with “Immortals” is that it dilutes these simple, cheesy pleasures with a dry tone and far too much self-seriousness. Between action scenes, the flat, uninteresting characters discuss their religious doubts and personal goals the way real characters in a real movie would, without giving us any reason to sympathize with them. The screenplay (by brothers Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides) is Saturday matinee hokum with a plot that seldom makes logical sense, but director Tarsem Singh treats it like “The Odyssey.” “Immortals” doesn’t suffer because it’s cheesy; it suffers because it thinks it isn’t.
This is Singh’s third movie, and it’s a gorgeous-looking mess, and anyone who saw his other two won’t be surprised to hear that. I remember almost nothing about “The Cell,” Singh’s freaky mind-bender from 2000, except that it took place largely inside the mind of a serial killer, and that at one point we saw a horse being vivisected. His other movie, “The Fall,” had story issues but was one of the most visually arresting things I’ve ever seen, full of beautiful location shooting (no CGI or green screens) and brilliant colors.
When there is physical movement in “Immortals,” it’s framed and shot like a work of art. The cinematography (by Brendan Galvin) and production design (by Tom Foden) are captivating. Singh presents Phaedra’s visions as madly surreal dreams that border on nightmares. The man has clear talent as an artist, but he needs a better story than this to convey it.
C (1 hr., 50 min.; )