Tuesday, 15 November 2011
From Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, director of 'The Fall', 'Immortals' is as self-consciously artful as it is ultra-violent - a skull-smashing, eye-gouging riff on Greek myth. Its characters are thinly drawn heroic archetypes, lead by Henry Cavill (the next Superman) as Theseus and Luke Evans as the wettest version of Zeus ever committed to film. Mickey Rourke again takes the role of villain, whilst "actress" Freida Pinto is a virgin oracle and an underutilised John Hurt narrates, bringing back fond memories of 'The Storyteller'. There isn't a lot to the characters or the story: Rourke longs to find a holy artefact (the magical Epirus Bow) that will enable him to "unleash the titans" and destroy the gods, whilst our heroes must stop him. And, as with every telling of this story (Disney's 'Hercules', both 'Clash of the Titans' movies), they will by necessity fail to stop him, or else rob us of a gods versus titans spectacular at the end.
Where Tarsem's film does stand up is in the art direction. Yes, it's entirely showy (though not in the ugly way Zack Snyder's '300' was), but to see a blockbuster with such a coherent sense of design and an eye for composition is heartening. There is no place for realism here and whilst this does excuse a few awkward plot holes it does enable some fabulously over the top costumes and elaborate sets. The 3D is also well utilised, reminding me of Wim Wender's arthouse dance flick 'Pina', with increased spacial depth providing the perfect platform for the grim choreography of battle. A few jarring cuts betray the compromise that took some of the more grisly shots from the film in order to grant it a '15' certificate, but it's still spectacularly violent and frequently inventive with it.
Possibly as a lazy piece of character motivation rather than something more insidious, both Rourke as the merciless King Hyperion and Cavill's hero are motivated by a need for personal revenge: the villain blames the gods for the death of his family, whilst Theseus has his own personal cause to want Hyperion dead. Though this blood-lust does undermine his heroic character, as does his shield-beating claptrap about immortality through death in battle, it's entirely consistent with the film's conservative, militarist message. Here the enemy is one who, we are told, kills innocents without remorse because they are motivated by a conviction of belief. Key to the victory of good over evil is Theseus' discovery of deep religious faith.
To compound this message, a slimy politician (Stephen McHattie) seeks to negotiate with Hyperion rather than command his forces in battle, citing logic over superstition and demonstrating that those who seek the peaceful path are weak and godless fools. Here an army of face-covering fundamentalists can only be bested by renewed fundamentalism on the part of the good guys. Throw in the fact that the all-white gods (wearing blonde armour) beat the crap out of the dark-skinned titans and you've got something that's either stringently right-wing or just crass and insensitive.
'Immortals' is out now in the UK and rated '15' by the BBFC.