IMMORTALS (2011) (***)
Tarsem Singh brings his unique visual style from his previous films THE CELL and THE FALL to this Greek myth epic. Within his surreal CG landscapes and strange, but beautiful, costumes, he gives us a classic hero and a maniacal villain. These elements worked for me. If you allow the simple man vs. man story and the visuals to sweep you along, you will find enjoyment in this 300-inspired actioner.
Theseus (Henry Cavill, TV's THE TUTORS) is a peasant who lives in a village that is built on a sheer cliff. Beside the inherent tension of living in such a place, I'm not sure why people would settle here. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER) is laying siege to city after city, angry with the gods for allowing his family to die. He is in search of the Epirus Bow, a magic weapon that sends unlimited arrows with the power to blow up impenetrable walls. His goal is to free the Titans, the only beings known to be able to kill gods. While Theseus doesn't believe in the gods, Zeus (Luke Evans, CLASH OF THE TITANS) believes in him and so does the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE).
So I'd like to get out of the way the things that don't work. The gods. Zeus commands that the other gods not help the humans against Hyperion in order to keep their free will in tact. But he seems to have been influencing Theseus his whole life, but just in human form. Oh so that doesn't break the rules I guess. But the other gods can't help but break the rules. Poseidon (Kellan Lutz, TWILIGHT) sends a giant tidal wave to kill Theseus' enemies when they are outnumbered, but how does the wave know who are the good guys and the bad guys? And there is another wrinkle to this whole no helping rule too. If the Titans are unleashed, the gods will help. So what's the big threat with these Titans for Theseus? If they enter the game, Zeus is calling in the ringers. It made me realize why people stopped believing in the Greek gods, their stories are just not as dramatically satisfying as other deity out there.
The film is certainly influenced by 300 in its R-rated blood letting, which is even more gruesome as heads smash and bodies are dissected in 3-D. And if you're going with the R you might as well put some tasteful nudity in there as well. Tarsem even borrows the copious use of slow motion that Zack Snyder loves. Charley and Vlas Parlapanides' script even uses the military strategy of funneling the enemy through a tight tunnel in order to minimize the effects of their overwhelming numbers. The problem here is that the enemy creates the tunnel, so why not just knock down the whole wall? But then you wouldn't get Theseus running through one enemy after another down a long hall OLDBOY style. But take the scene where Theseus takes on the Minotaur. Tarsem frames and edits the sequence in a way that is disorienting, which creates a great deal of tension.
So why should you see this you might be asking now? Tarsem's visual genius for starters. The Titans looking like mud crusted warriors locked away in a marble cube strung together with each other with one long metal bit in their mouths. A devastated Theseus receiving life saving water poured into his mouth from the gorgeous lips of Phaedra. The golden headdresses of the gods as they lounge on the marble slab in the heavens. The barbwired head of the Minotaur. The flowing red dresses of the oracle and her decoy sisters. Phaedra and Theseus covered in dark oil from the polluted sea. The sliver torture device in the shape of a giant bull. The savage looking masks of Hyperion and his army. The illogical but haunting locations. The list goes on and on.
The second is Hyperion. Rourke is perfect as this worn-down, bitter, scarred ancient king. He is cruel, but for a reason. His motivation is revenge. Theseus is his opposite. He fights for the poor and weak. Because the gods see his noble heart, they watch over him. These are the gods that Hyperion believes forsake him and his family. This clash between good vs. evil works, because the actors fit the roles and the landscape they perform against is fresh. If you think gods are fair, just ask Hyperion, he'll tell you all about it. It's easy to have faith when the gods have your back, just look at Theseus.
Some have complained that the film doesn't make much sense. In actuality the plot is simple. Hyperion wants to take over and Theseus is destined to stop him. I'll admit the gods just muddy everything up, but isn't that always the case with Greek gods? For me they weaken the story, but don't destroy it. If you're going to deal with Greek gods and not change the myths completely, there are inherent dramatic problems. But I'll take those dramatic problems any day if they are brought to the screen by Tarsem and Rourke.