Thursday, November 10, 2011

Immortals: It's all Greek to Tarsem

Set in 1228 BC, Immortals tells the story of how a fierce peasant with an unlimited gym pass rose up against and ultimately defeated a sadistic warmonger with a lot of help from body-buttered Aryan deities. Apparently it’s all based on Greek myths, though departures from the source material are conspicuous and most often really dumb. One could argue that director Tarsem Dhandwar Singh (the artist formerly known as Tarsem Singh, or plain old Tarsem—his name just keeps getting longer) is very much in his element; he clearly prefers the god’s eye view whenever possible and finds countless opportunities here to have his actors strike poses modeled after the cover paintings of fantasy novels.

Theseus is bulgingly embodied by future Superman Henry Cavill, while his antagonist, King Hyperion, is played by Mickey Rourke, who seems to be channeling Brando in Apocalypse Now, what with his croaky voice muttering out from the gloom, his munching of chestnuts, the crumbs stuck in his scraggily beard, and his looming over a basin of water as he interviews an unfortunate minion. The two first meet when Hyperion, just like Thulsa Doom in Conan, slaughters mom before Theseus’ eyes. “Witness hell,” says Hyperion, whose route to mega-evil was earlier explained as the result of his despair over the death of his entire family during a plague. The gods did nothing to save them, he complains, so why bother with faith?

Turns out Hyperion’s got a point, because the gods can actually intervene when the mood strikes them, and in fact do so several times throughout Immortals, whose multiple dues ex machinas add up to an apologia for fundamentalists and constitute a defense for all those who choose to interpret religious texts literally. An odd sort of suspense, or perhaps anti-suspense, is at work here: no matter how heroic or resourceful Theseus and his friends are made out to be none of it really matters because every time they’re in big trouble the gods just swoop down and take care of business, climaxing in a cage match with some butt-ugly titans that involves a lot of exploding heads and makes no sense whatsoever. So the protracted third act is especially dull, and it doesn’t help that Steven Dorff’s horny thief—the closest thing to an actual character in the movie—gets swallowed up at the top of it in a horde of baddies.

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