Ye Gods, what have we here?
“All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine”, declares the frontispiece of Tarsem Singh’s new 3D movie, Immortals, quoting Socrates the same way the preface to Conan the Barbarian quotes Nietzsche.
Immortality and divinity: I’m not altogether sure what the difference is, and a cursory visit to the Google to get an explanation of Socrates’ quote didn’t enlighten me. All the same I wonder what the father of philosophers would have made of this film. I doubt he would have thought it immortal, much less divine. He may have asked someone to pass the hemlock. In any case Singh’s metaphysics seem to halt at the frontispiece and, so one is obliged to draw succour from other quarters.
By the law of unintended consequences there were some: For example, there is the lesson “it is all relative”. Until today, I thought The Last of the Airbenders was an irredeemably poor film; I left this one asking my editor whether I could upgrade its rating so I could make room for this one at the bottom of the heap. At least Airbender was funny. OK; not intentionally, but if you’ve contracted to sit still in the dark for two hours, you must take you pleasures wherever you may find them. Pleasures were few and far between for the one hour, 50 minutes of Immortals.
Immortals isn’t funny, accidentally or on purpose. Nor is it divine, and I doubt it will be immortal, whatever Socrates might have said. Interminable is more like it.
I have absolutely no idea who Singh thinks the target market is: it has enough gore, blood, guts and the odd silhouetted breast to vouchsafe itself an adult rating. But its script, screenplay and acting would test the patience of a ten-year-old. Unless you count Minotaurs unexpectedly throwing axes at you in 3D as dramatic suspense, there is little in the way of drama or suspense. (Oh, for the horny Minotaur from Danny McBride’s Your Highness). There is, on the other hand, lots of violence. Wet, bloody, gory violence. Well edited, perhaps, but ultimately juvenile: the fight sequences just go on and on. When you’ve seen one slo-mo airborne, camera orbiting, blood-spurting warrior decapitation, you’ve seen them all. I’ve recently watched 300, so I’ve seen plenty. Speaking of 300, that is another stylish but empty film rendered retrospectively outstanding by comparison to this one. Gerard Butler’s Leonidas is a vastly superior hero to Henry Cavill’s effete and heavily derived Theseus.
It is not only the cast of extras who are unceremoniously butchered. Greek mythology takes a rare old pasting too. Theseus is now a bastard son of a peasant, rather than being co-fathered by King Aegeus and Poseidon. Indeed, Poseidon, in this movie doesn’t seem to be “into” girls at all, if you catch my drift – nor, for that matter, are any of the five (yes, five) Olympian Gods. Hyperion (an effectively nasty, if precariously type-cast, Mickey Rourke) isn’t a Titan but an invading king seeking to free the Titans from their prison in Mount Tartarus with the aid of an entirely made-up “bow of Epirus” (but why? Search me). Theseus, en route to save the day, is chased by a minotauresque warrior, rather than the other way around. And so it goes on. Some clairvoyant virgin Sybils are also involved, who seem to owe as much to Minority Report as they do to Robert Graves, but really only to provide Theseus with a bit of skirt (Freida Pinto’s Phaedra – whom in mythology tells us was in fact Theseus’ bit of skirt, but wasn’t a Sibyl).
Ahhhhh: there it is: There’s a connection between Immortals and Airbender. To quote Rolf Harris: Can you see what it is yet? Clue: Danny Boyle.
Immortals, to this viewer, also had the misfortune to be screening just 48 hours after a genuinely intense, real-life battle of the titans, for the Rugby World Cup, screened on free-to-air on ITV. Some of the fight scenes seemed reminiscent, only not quite as intense as the contest between France and New Zealand at the break down. Piri Weepu: Now there would have been a good Theseus.
So where does this leave us? In a bad place. Looking desperately for flashes of gauche humour to propel this into Ed Woodian uplands of unintended greatness. There aren’t many. The screenplay is largely woeful (credited to the appropriately Hellenic sounding Parlapanides brothers, one of whose industry experience to date seems to have peaked at “assistant to [producer] Mr Scott Rudin”. Isn’t that the one that gets sent out for twinkies at three in the morning on location in Reykjavik?).
Interestingly the cod heroics down on Tartarus are interspersed with “back at the castle” scenes amongst (five of) the Gods on Mount Olympus which may have been scripted and wardrobed by Sticky Moments-era Julian Clary – look, I realise ancient Athenian warrior clobber has its effeminate aspects but you have to at least try to be manly with it.
There is one tremendous Tableau: the titans (in their cage twelve in number but when they escape, multiplying to thirty or forty) are imprisoned in Mount Tartarus under a dome modelled on Rome’s real Pantheon, mounted atop some heroic colossi, linking arms (rather, I thought, like an All Black front row). That was a nice bit of e-production design. But nowhere near enough to save this absolute stinker of a film.
The most worrisome aspect is the introduction, at the death, of Acamas, Theseus’s son, meaning someone at Universal in the script vetting department failed to veto the idea that there should be a sequel.
Immortals is in cinemas 11th November 2011.
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides
Stars:Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt