Movie review: Henry Cavill is mighty in 'Immortals'

Henry Cavill is mighty as Theseus in Tarsem Singh's visually impressive 3-D work, but the Greek mythology-inspired story around him makes no sense.

November 11, 2011|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Henry Cavill stars in "Immortals."
Henry Cavill stars in "Immortals." (Jan Thijs / War of the Gods…)

Where are the gods of Olympus when you need them? I ask on behalf of "Immortals," because mere mortals were apparently not able to create a movie that actually made sense. I realize that making "Immortals" immortal was way too much to ask, but frankly, just a shade more plausible, not to mention pleasurable, would have been nice.

Now if beauty were enough to carry the day, then this 3-D stunner, with its star, Henry Cavill, looking like he was plucked out of a Caravaggio painting or the cover of Men's Health, would be fine as it is. With dark, soulful eyes and rippling abs, Cavill is magnetic as Theseus, the slave-hero of the film. In fact, few cleft chins since Robert Mitchum have had so much screen-grabbing potential. So dashing is he in those slave rags that it is easy to understand why the film's resident mystic — the Virgin Oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto, draped in diaphanous robes that are remarkable for their reveals) — might consider giving up her, um, visions to be with him.

As the massive marketing campaign screams — this is a film from the people who brought you "300." Yes, but. "300" was more than the sum of its glorious graphic parts. It had classic bloodlines inside a terrific story, and director Zack Snyder made great use of both the highly stylized surface gloss and the substance.

"Immortals" not so much. Director Tarsem Singh, indeed shaping up to be a visual visionary ("The Fall," "The Cell"), has crafted a film that often looks like it was lifted frame by frame from one of those gorgeous coffee table books on Renaissance art. For a while, the graphic novel style is so spectacular — dusky villages carved into the sheerest of cliffs, endless stretches of desert where you can count every grain of sand, oil-slicked seas just dying to be roiled by a storm — that it is distraction enough.

But before you go floating off into the clouds with Zeus (Luke Evans), Athena (Isabel Lucas), Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) and the rest, here's the problem: the script. Its writers, Greek American brothers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, have definitely been inspired by Greek mythology, because they seem inclined to reference all of it. Or most of it. To that overflowing pile, they add a few more legends of their own. What is lost is some sort of internal, unifying logic. Even the most illogical of imaginary worlds have that, or at least those that work.

Singh, working with the versatile director of photography Brendan Galvin ("Behind Enemy Lines" and the director's upcoming dark take on the Snow White fable, "Mirror Mirror") and an exceptional production/costume/effects crew, opens with a lingering shot of the magical box that imprisons the vicious Titans. They've been held in a kind of suspended state for who knows how many years. It's a very cool scene, like you've stumbled into a great archaeological dig, with the Titans all encrusted in sand, still standing at attention (the chains help). Their claim to fame is that if they're unleashed, they will kill all the gods and all the people too, so you best leave this box alone.

But we all know what humans do when temptation stares us in the face — we bite the apple, we lift the lid. The guy most likely to do it here is King Hyperion, a despot in the making who sounds like Darth Vader but is actually played by a bearded, buffed and sweat-slicked Mickey Rourke, channeling a lifetime of leftover rage he has hanging around.

Hyperion is the one who will whip things to a frenzy as he schemes to unleash the Titans, find the Bow of Epirus (it's magic), rule the world and slaughter any human he runs into. Even more important, he's got all kinds of implements of torture, which he likes to employ. As does Singh.

The filmmaker has taken special care to choreograph pain in fierce fashion — ordinary 3-D bloodletting and sword fighting is really not enough. All the unimaginable ways to inflict a world of hurt are imagined here in frightful images that seem to rise right off the screen. What's missing is the emotion that might have lifted the film and us as well.

Meanwhile, Theseus has a lot on his plate, the meat-and-potatoes stuff required of any hero. As it happens, Cavill actually knows how to milk his superhero moments (which I'm sure has the upcoming "Man of Steel" folks breathing a sigh of relief). Meanwhile, his slave sidekick, Stavros (Stephen Dorff), gets all the funny lines, which he delivers quite deftly.

Lots more stuff keeps happening. But at some point, you will wonder — will this never end? Even the Gods weep at the answer to that one....

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