I hate seeing a movie and then having to go home and write about it right then. I normally like to sleep on it and write it the next day, because when I go right home and review something I tend to either gush or overreact. But life is going to be a bit hectic the next few days, and so here I am, writing about Tarsem's IMMORTALS. And while I'm not going to gush, exactly, I was surprised that the film was as good as it was.
IMMORTALS comes straight out of the 300/CLASH OF THE TITANS school, but what this film has that those do not is Tarsem's incredible visual sense. There are images in IMMORTALS that are simply unique - from King Hyperion's (Mickey Rourke) mask and helmet, to the color palette, to the power fo the Gods themselves. And although the movie has some issues that I'll get into, Tarsem gets more right that you would expect. A lot more.
The Titans warred with the Gods, and lost. So they are trapped in a cage buried far beneath Mount Tartarus, waiting, waiting, for the day they will be released from their prison. They are held together in rows, with a metal bar in their mouths, and one day they will be freed, and the warth and the heavens will tremble. The Gods, led by Zeus (Luke Evans) have vowed never to interfere with human affairs unless the Titans are unleashed. And so comes King Hyperion, grieving over the loss of his wife and child, who decides that the world will pay for the absence of the Gods. He will find the Epirus Bow, a powerful magical artifact, and release the Titans, and end the world if he can.
But a young man, Theseus (Henry Cavill), seeks revenge against Hyperion for the murder of his mother, and Phaedra (Freida Pinto), the Virgin Oracle, sees Theseus's and Hyperion's fate, intertwined. Meanwhile, the Gods watch these events from Mount Olympus, and the rule of non-interference is about to be sorely tested as Hyperion challenges the Gods themselves. Only Theseus, a mortal man, stands in the way of Hyperion's armies.
This isn't a film you watch for the acting, exactly, but Mickey Rourke's performance is quite good. He's clearly insane with grief and anger, and thus a formidable villain. He gives Hyperion a low, cracked voice, almost as if he's spent it in fury and anger at the Gods. Cavill, by contrast, doesn't have much to do but look ripped and yell a lot, but it works for the part. He's coming from the Gerard Butler "THIS! IS! SPARTA!" school when it comes to his performance, but when it comes to the action scenes he carries himself very well and he'll be a fine Superman in that regard. I really enjoyed Stephen Dorff as a charming rogue, Stavros, who gets caught up in the events. He's definitely the Han Solo in this movie's dynamic. Freida Pinto is radiant, but isn't given much to do except when her visions of the future happen.
But one thing has to be said - Tarsem can direct action. He creates great tapestries of gore and violence, and the action is visceral, and not a bit of shaky-cam in sight. In fact, the action geography of IMMORTALS has to be commended - the camera steps back and takes it all in, and the result is truly impressive action sequences that are rousing and make total geographic sense. One particular sequence at the end will please anyone who has enjoyed their eviscerations. This isn't for the kids, folks - IMMORTALS, at least in its violence, is all R, and thank the Gods for that.
And through it all is Tarsem's visual style, which makes even the slower moments fascinating to watch. I'm not sure where he comes up with this stuff - much of IMMORTALS is beautiful but in an unsettling way, whether it's a shot of someone being hewn apart with knives, or a majestic statue, or a village on the cliffside. It is wholly original looking, and IMMORTALS is worth the price for the visuals alone. The art design is jawdropping, especially the costumes, which had me questioning just what I was seeing. Expect some nominations that way next year, because it really is unique in that regard. Not to take anything away from Guillermo Del Toro, but a Lovecraft film by Tarsem would be fairly terrifying. I think he's got some interesting visions in his head, and they lead to some very strange and striking imagery. Now as far as the 3D is concerned, I think 2D is better suited to this film, although it's not terrible. But the natural dimming of the glasses prevents you from taking in the extraordinary visions that Tarsem presents.
In the end, I liked IMMORTALS quite a bit. There are moments that drag, and the story is definitely puffed up to justify the running time - if you've seen 300, you pretty much know what you need to know going in - but it's sheer eye candy in the way it tells its story that, although it's a popcorn film, there are images that stick with you when the film is over. Tim Burton has held the crown for fantastic imagery on screen for years, but I think if anyone was to take that crown from him, Tarsem would be the director to do it. Put in a word, IMMORTALS is cool.