With the most recent forays into mythology coming in the form of a boring Troy and misguided Clash of the Titans, seeing the name Tarsem Singh attached to Immortals brought a smile to my face. Originally titled Dawn of War and War of the Gods before settling on its current name, the director sought to deliver a bloody epic in the style of a Renaissance painting—the flowing light of the Gods’ capes and fluid motion of action a real treat. And if you’ve seen his previous work The Fall and The Cell, you can imagine the sumptuous world he would create on location with massive sets, vibrant colors, and an Indian-infused aesthetic that never ceases to amaze. But no matter how beautiful the imagery, an intriguing story is still necessary to gather interest and declare a film a true winner. Unfortunately, I can’t give Charley and Vlas Parlapanides the same praise as their director.
That’s not to say the script is bad; it’s just underwhelming. Loosely based on Theseus’s battle against the Minotaur and details surrounding the Titanomachy’s fight between Gods and Titans, the Parlapanides brothers crafted a tale of human war tinted by the watchful eyes of immortals above. Centering around the hero Theseus (Henry Cavill)—son of Poseidon in myth but observed by a disguised form of Zeus (Luke Evans) here—his peasant is a warrior with huge potential to lead the fight against the ruthless and power hungry King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). Made to watch his mother’s murder, Theseus is enslaved and put to work in a camp housing the four Grecian oracles. Befriending a thief in Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) who envisions him as their savior, fate brings Theseus to the sacred and magical Epirus Bow and shows him the strength to fight for the world instead of only the loved ones he was unable to save.
Decreed by Zeus that Gods can never assist humans unless an enemy like the Titans are unleashed upon them, Theseus is left to his own devices. Taught by a mysterious old man (John Hurt), his skills are honed and his mind made incorruptible. Unafraid to stand up to the Grecian army or Hyperion’s unstable monster, this hero among men becomes our last hope to defeat a foe that would rule the world with an iron fist. Aries (Daniel Sharman) and Athena (Isabel Lucas) betray their father’s order, descending upon Earth for a gruesomely exciting dance of physicality and blood, saving the young man by making him finally believe Gods existed as more than fairy tales. An illegal act necessitating swift justice by Zeus himself, this sacrifice of the Gods allows Theseus to find the strength within to not only avenge his mother, but also destroy the evil threatening to annihilate mankind.
As far as story goes, this is about it—not too much meat on the bones. The actual tale of Theseus entering the labyrinth to defeat the Minotaur is reappropriated into a labyrinthine catacomb and an adorned giant from Hyperion’s ranks, a minor blip on his journey in search of the war he never wanted to fight. And because we see Hyperion release the Titans from Mount Tartaros at the very start, we know Theseus will eventually reach him and engage in a showdown that will hopefully live up to the hype of the dark battles before it. With long shot horizontal pans of men ravaging each other with swords and spears, it’s a breath of fresh air watching extended fight sequences without the ADHD hyper-cuts accustomedly used. Expertly choreographed and made more brutal with blood and fallen limbs in post-production, Immortals possesses a uniquely stylized vision of war that could only come from the mind of an auteur like Tarsem.
Seeing Aries take out six men through a tempo changing exchange of slomotion and fast-forward speed is glorious; the climatic rhythmic dance of Gods and Titans worth the wait with a pulse-pounding rush you’ll wish was used throughout; and the design of the Titans themselves in their caged prison is horrific and beautiful at the same time. Cavill has his own moment to shine too, ramming headfirst into a mass of Hyperion’s men without fear to cut down everyone effortlessly and without remorse. Even his battle with Rourke finds higher stakes than the brief clashes of good versus evil we see so often. Their fight carries on as both wound and smash each other against stonewalls with a force that would knock out lesser men. Crosscut with the Gods and Titans battling in the mountain prison below, you do begin to wonder if Theseus will have the strength for victory or if Zeus and his Olympians will need to come to his rescue.
With sweeping cinematography and gorgeous art direction—flourishes like the Minotaur’s more realistic construction and a brilliant disguise reveal from human form to God for Zeus and Athena—you can’t really fault the aesthetic and style at play besides their steadfast acceptance of past constructs for the dynamic between worlds. I love that the Parlapanides Brothers were able to retain the feel of mythology in their script; I guess I just yearned for more. Not quite the intellectual tome I anticipated through fond memories of The Fall, nor the studio-driven lowest common denominator blockbuster the previews bill with their ‘from the producers of 300’ deflection, Immortals rests in the middle. Disappointing by never fully embracing its originality above and beyond the linear storytelling at its back, perhaps I wanted more abstract and less plodding as it skipped from fight to fight. Luckily, though, even mainstream Tarsem is better than the Hollywood machine and if nothing else he never fails to create breathtaking ocular art.
 Henry Cavill stars in Relativity Media’s IMMORTALS. Photo Credit: Jan Thijs © 2011 War of the Gods, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
 The gods on Mount Olympus as seen in Relativity Media’s IMMORTALS. © 2011 War of the Gods, LLC. All Rights Reserved Courtesy of Relativity Media
 Mickey Rourke star as King Hyperion in Universal Pictures’ Immortals.