This is a difficult review to write because I can't seem to put my thumb on exactly what it is I want to say, even though it's right there, on the tip of my tongue. Okay, let's begin with one of my favourite things: the Rottentomatoes "Critics' Consensus": a short little blurb which sums up critics' perception of a film. Immortals scores an pretty dismal 38%, and the Critics' Consensus says this:
"The melding of real sets, CG work, and Tarsem's signature style produces fireworks, though the same can't be said for Immortals slack, boring storytelling."
Hit the jump to see why, for once, I disagree with the Critics' Consensus (in part, at least).
Massive Hollywood tentpole films, like the films of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, like Immortals and 300, are more often than not badgered by critics. I'm not talking blockbusters in general here, I'm talking the "Epic Movie" in particular: Disasters, Robots, Explosions, Gods, Armageddon, Swords, Beasts etc. I don't want to put my foot in it by saying that story is not important. But there is some truth to this, and I am immediately reminded of this Slashfilm article which references a Disney executive saying that what draws in paying audiences is “spectacle,” not storytelling.
It's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, and a very fine line, but I don't disagree with that statement. All a tentpole film needs is enough of a story to draw the viewer in, and then the visuals do the rest. However, the story must be decent, otherwise you get... Sucker Punch. It was beautiful, but I was bored to death. And what happens when you get a great story? A huge, huge hit: The Lord of the Rings. For me, Immortals is the perfect example of a tentpole movie with a serviceable story, but where the visuals turn it into a massively entertaining experience. Should critics be so harsh? My personal view is no, they should stop viewing all films the same way and take everything in context. A delicately concocted story will go to waste in the midst of Tarsem's bloody battles and Michael Bay's explosive ballet. It's like drinking really expensive red wine with a hot curry.
At the end of the day, it's a moot point though. These movies rake in the cash, and in Hollywood that is what matters. But I still don't think it's unfair to the directors, and Michael Bay obviously doesn't like it either: he now wants to make a low budget film ($20 million, ten times less than Transformers: Dark of the Moon) called Pain & Gain. He wants to prove the critics wrong, just like Roland Emmerich did with Anonymous. And that did not work (Rottentomatoes: 46%). These guys do not need to prove themselves to a bunch of smug asshole critics. They are masters of their own craft, and should be recognised as such.
Anyway, this is turning into a rant rather than a review of Immortals, which is about Theseus (Henry Cavill), a mortal man chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) to lead the fight against the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain the long lost Bow of Epirus. With the invincible Bow, the king will be able to overthrow the Gods of Olympus and become the undisputed master of his world. Enough of that, as I said, story is not the main focus here.
What's more important is that Tarsem Singh's visual genius makes Immortals an absolute joy to behold. Beautiful sets, costumes and just about everything else make the film look like a tasteful, artistic version of 300. If you've seen Tarsem's previous film, The Fall, you will immediately recognise his work here. Except now there is a lot more action, and of course, blood. I felt The Fall fell short in that respect - they were all dressed up with nowhere to go. Come to think of it, Tarsem also has a knack for crazy hats and some twisted shit, I'm thinking particularly of that horse in The Cell. We see some of it here again, this time it's also an animal: a metal bull. Oi vey.
The battles were choreographed spectacularly. These days we are so spoiled for choice, it is really difficult to film hand-to-hand combat in a manner that makes an impact, never mind leaving jaws on the floor. The scenes with the Gods in action were incredible: I could have watched that bloodletting for hours! Apart from that though, there is not much left to say about the film. The action and the visuals are what's important, and Tarsem did a great job. I suppose I should say something about the characters though. Freida Pinto was beautiful as usual, but the best performance was probably Luke Evans as Zeus. He totally pulled it off. Henry Cavill was more than adequate in the lead role, which is saying a lot after the trailer left me really worried. In fact, the trailer left me worried about a lot of things, but it was all bettered in the final product.
I don't think Immortals will be remembered for very long, but it sure was better than 300, and far superior to Clash of the Titans (the two movies it's often compared to). It's a lot of fun though, and it's impending financial success (it over performed at the US Box Office this weekend, raking in $32 million) means that we will see a lot more from Tarsem Singh in future.
7.5 out of 10