Someone needs  a break after trying to sell the lines they’re given for this movie.

Immortals is a beautiful mess. What makes me hate it so very much is that it has these little glimmers of excellence that hint at something greater. Without that, it’d be just another empty spectacle movie with bush-league writing and the usual checklist of obligatory Hero’s Journey ingredients to go through. Those glimmers are purely visual, including the striking action sequences, and they don’t serve to redeem the movie. I mean, this is just a nice coat of paint on a lemon. It’s still a lemon.

I always want movies to be good. I avoid the ones I think are set up all the way through to be bad (Jack and Jill comes to mind). I reserve the real ire for those movies that completely fail themselves, those massive projects that were hyped, sold, or pedigreed to the point where they should have been good, had no reason not to be good, but end up being bad and almost always a result of movie-by-committee with a shit-speckled foundation of godawful writing. I mean, it’s not hard to diagram a story like this one. Immortals features a version of the omnipresent Hero’s Journey but stripped down to its most basic level. It isn’t even the first fall movie of 2011 to do that, exactly that, and Immortals is so fundamentally similar to Conan the Barbarian that I really have to shake my head.

Freida Pinto continues to impress no one with her “acting”. She does get naked in the movie, I guess.

But let’s get into the thick of it. I aim to show you that it isn’t just that I dislike this bad movie, but that it is in fact objectively bad and you’re probably a sucker with no taste or a masochist with a high bullshit threshold if you feel forigiving of it. I’ll also talk about the few redeeming qualities Immortals has, elements which do not redeem the overall film but stand upright as those glimmers of excellence I mentioned.

Before I even get into the plot, I’ll talk about the setting. I knew I was going to have some serious problems with this movie when, early on, a title card posits that this all takes place in like 1183 BC (or something), making this not a fantastical reimagining of Greek mythology, but some preposterous attempt to “explain” those myths with this-is-how-it-could-have-happened ala Troy or King Arthur. If you’ve seen any of the advertising for this movie, you already know this is fucking preposterous. So why is this a problem? Because it hints strongly at the sense of self-importance and seriousness that informs the movie’s tone in its entirety. This is serious business, not your daddy’s silly fantasy of yesteryear (the 80’s) but some post-modern badassery for your inner 12 yerar old. And that is exactly who Immortals seems most meant for: 12 year olds. It certainly feels like it was written by one. I would have written some crazy version of the Theseus myths at 12 and thought that shit some profound shit too. But no one would have made a movie out of it, demonstrating again the fact that, much as we take it for granted, Hollywood is fucking bonkers.

In addition, very little sense of scale is given to justify the movie’s overwhelmingly expansive design choices. Yeah, there are mountains with giant indoor statues and cool coastal cliff-cities but none of this is connected into a cohesive world. Rather, it all feels like a series of metaphors, an idea that is supported by the one glimpse we get of a shining Hellenistic city, the “world” that the movie is about saving from Hyperion and his BDSM-gone-nightmare host of crazy “Heracleans”. We spend an inordinate amount of time in Theseus’s home town, for instance, and where better movies would spend the “travel time” between areas of the world on some character development type shit, Immortals has no time for that and instead relegates what precious little characterization it offers to seconds-long scenes that are just about checking off boxes so the audience will get its love story, its buddy bromance, its standard revenge plot, etc. It all feels completely obligatory and is executed as completely perfunctory. We’ve seen it all before and they’re not even trying to keep the formula interesting even by simply staying present in it to tell the story, instead it’s just short-hand. It’s treated as “okay, now this is done so now we can have another scene of unidentified Gods moping around Olympus doing dick all”.

The Gods are flashy and visually appealing but somewhat anonymous and utterly empty, a metaphor for the movie itself which is, coincidentally, named for them.

Speaking of those Gods. There are the makings of some kind of drama relating to Zeus and his rules about mortals but it never goes anywhere and is given so little screentime that you’re left wondering if it isn’t an artifact of some earlier version of the script. The Gods have very little to do with the movie or anything going on in it. Some want to help the mortals, especially Theseus, but no real reason is given why or why they aren’t supposed to. Instead, Zeus kills anyone who tries while incestuously doting on Athena, the only one besides himself that is named. Luke Evans plays Zeus with a fair amount of gravitas and his naturally-sorrowful face gives some sense of a deeper conflict. It’s the closest thing to pathos in the movie. As for who plays Athena… who the fuck cares? It’s some pretty blond who can barely handle the limited role she has. She’s just there, like the other Gods, to look good and say dumb shit about duty and immortality and avoiding getting punished by daddy. Seriously, the movie feels like it wanted the Gods to be a major element but it leaves them (and us) hanging as to who they are, why they do what they do, and what they want. They are just a working deus ex machina (I know, I know) who seem like they’re only around for bitchin’ effects scenes like Poseidon’s dive into the sea (a tactic which makes no sense in its context, by the way) or the fairly badass big fight at the end between the Gods and the Titans. That fight seems like the sequence this entire movie was built around. It’s a cool fight but feels completely disconnected from the rest of the movie. The threat of the Titans is never clear, nor is it clear why the Gods never wiped them out in the first place or why Hyperion wants to unleash them. Also, it’s cut against the glossed-over final battle in the tunnels of some wall that defends aforementioned Hellenistic city as well as the big fight between Theseus and Hyperon which is, surprisingly, a balls-out slugfest that is pretty damn satisfying as a throwback mano-y-mano fight on its own terms. That fight between Theseus and Hyperion is good, and it fits well into one of the unnecessarily confused thematic threads of the movie: Theseus wants revenge against Hyperion cuz the motherfucker killed his mom. Pretty standard but still enough to hang a satisfying climax on had it been left at that. This isn’t to say that the movie shouldn’t have had a big battle scene or a Gods-on-Titans brawl, just that these things do not connect very well due to the overall lack of attention paid to them.

Hyperion is a decent villain played underwhelmingly by Mickey Rourke who growls through the proceedings while everyone, probably him included, wonders that the fuck he’s doing in this movie. His motivations are crazy and his methods are extreme, but the few scenes he gets to establish his character are way more interesting than anything else going on with the other characters. He literally wants to achieve immortality through out-fucking everybody else, willing to kill and rape to accomplish this. He sadistically mutilates and gelds his followers. This stuff is really dark and hints at a better, less compromised movie lurking somewhere underneath the bullshit we got instead. That said, the secondary villain seems to be a character named Lysander who is sort of the poster-boy for the problems with the writing in Immortals. He thinks Hyperion is unbeatable and he’s also a bigot so Theseus kicks his ass and he gets kicked out of the army for that and because he doesn’t believe it can win, as a result, he betrays everybody and joins up with Hyperion only to get given some pretty harsh treatment. When he sees Theseus again, I think the idea is that he’s realized he’s in error or something but the movie doesn’t give the subplot time to actually happen. It’s confusing and he sort of ends up just being there and doing very little. It’s bizarre and stupid.

Will this glittery mask make me look gay or stupid? 

Now on to the heroes of the movie, which consist of Theseus (Henry Caville, our next Superman), Phaedra (Freida Pinto, playing a noncharacter), and Stavros (Stephen Dorff, who must have needed the payday). Only Theseus is named in the movie except for in the last act. Which is interesting to think of. It shows that this movie is completely unconcerned about whether the characters register. It can’t even bother to set them up, give them names, and convince us to give a fuck about them. Stavros is supposed to be a lovable rogue but the character has no charm and the movie has none to lend him, so he’s just there and inexplicably loyal to Theseus and/or caught up in shit. Phaedra is given more backstory and some of it is even interesting. Her love story with Theseus is the height of wafer-thin nonsense, though. They are given no reason to get together except that heteronormative narratives demand it. Oh, and the mythology. But really, why care about this when the writers of Immortals so clearly did not? Why care about any of the side characters, who show up and disappear haphazardly as the plot demands?

I can’t fault the movie with its design decisions to the effect that they are going to be a completely subjective element for most people. Like the makers of 300, to which Immortals is destined to be most compared, Tarsem set out to make a visual feast filled with his trademark extravagance, eccentricity, and fantasism. I can, however, poke fun at how uninspired or wrong-headed some of those decisions are. Your mileage is going to vary with this stuff, but I have to say that even in-movie, the bunnycrab hat that Hyperion wears doesn’t work at all. Not that it’s the only ridiculous headgear present. The Epirus Bow is the MacGuffin of the movie, which Hyperion seeks to give him an edge and let him free the Titans from their awesome cage. Because the plot demands that it show up sometime and the writers didn’t seem to care how, it is sitting in the mausoleum of Theseus’s village and in a scene that signifies all the stupidity I’m on about here, he notices it sticking out a rock and hammer-and-chisels that shit out. I don’t know what the point of this scene is, but I do know the bow looks like a contemporary recurve hunting bow with glitter-paint and I do know that this will not suffice unless the intention is to make me scoff uncontrollably every time I see it. I think to myself “really, Immortals? That’s your WMD on which the thin plot thinly rests? Really?!” and it is well that the movie cannot answer me.

The lead-up to the final battle made me wish it was in a better movie, it’s a great stand-alone.

One element I didn’t expect to like was the big speech near the finale. Somehow, Tarsem and the writers took what seemed from the trailer to be a fairly (sub)standard rallying speech, a thing that always seems to happen in these militaristic fantasy movies, and made it work. This is done through the punctuation more than the words. We can barely hear what Theseus is saying over the sound of Stavros and the other Hellinics (seriously, that is what they are called) bashing their swords against their shields. Then Theseus hops down to lead them in the fight, glowering at the Heracleans (seriously) who have broken into the defensive wall and who all the Hellenics are scared of. This is a rousing scene and the fight sequence that follows is stylistically and visually impressive. Ultimately, though, it could never be enough to save this movie. Theseus has little reason to be here, and as one soldier says, they have no reason to listen to him. The movie never bothers to share with its audience why Theseus is so awesome, we’re just expected to roll with it because that’s how these movies work. Even Clash of the Titans had more respect for its audience.

Immortals is a working example of a flashy flick with nothing going on. There’s no substance here, nothing to justify the expansive art design. It’s a pretty, but empty, shell of nothing. So while some people never expected Immortals to be great, heartless cynics that they are, there are the ingredients for something at least good in there somewhere. Too bad it earned nothing, took no time to establish anything beyond the barest necessary threads, and ultimately spoiled it all with an insipid ending that sequel-baits. That shit, objectively, all counts to make Immortals one of the worst movies of 2011.

All hail King Bunnycrab.

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