Director: Tarsem Singh
review by Jim Steel
Mel Gibson's paint-by-numbers Apocalypto had many, many flaws, but it briefly managed to display something wonderful between the turgid bouts
of slo-mo slaughter. When the captives enter his mash-up Aztec/ Mayan city they are entering a place that manages to look truly astonishing. It's
historical bollocks, of course, and it's also a direct steal from the time old Mel entered Bartertown, but it works. This is a living, breathing,
human city - albeit one with a thoroughly alien society. And this is Gibson we are talking about; hardly the most emotionally articulate of directors.
Few, for example, would easily confuse him with Pasolini on a dark night. Pasolini managed to create a superb evocation of Mycenaean Greece in Oedipus
Rex. How accurate is it? No idea. It feels spot-on, though, and that is what matters. If you haven't seen it then you will probably be familiar
with Terry Gilliam's cut 'n' paste version in Time Bandits.
That Bronze Age wasn't merely a low-tech version of today.
And so to Immortals... Cassander (Stephen McHattie), the leader of the free world, is a wishy-washy intellectual liberal in charge of a Greek
army that looks more like that of Imperial Rome (just needs some imperial eagles, maybe a senate as well). He's also one of those intellectual atheist
types; which obviously seals his fate. Theseus (Henry Cavill) may have been a non-believer as well but that was through ignorance and he soon learned
otherwise, whereas intellectuals obviously lack the ability to learn better. Cassander says the gods are merely a metaphor. Metaphor, eh? Is this
film possibly attempting to have its cake and eat it, metaphorically speaking? That's just greedy.
So, plot-wise, what does this travesty do with the foundation myths of western civilisation? Theseus starts the journey living at home with his mum,
Aethra (Anne-Day Jones). Home is a village that seems to consist of two caves carved into the rock on a ledge that is halfway up a gigantic cliff,
and it is quite obvious from the start that this computer-slick, glossy metallic world favours Frank Miller's celebration of proto-fascistic failure
over the approach of Pasolini. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is conquering Greece with his barbarian army and destroys the village in the course of
his travels. ("Everyone is equal in this army," says Hyperion at one stage in one of the more ham-fisted directorial attempts at inserting a metatextual
Hyperion, it should be noted, is a mere mortal in this film, and not the Titan of myth. Names have been grabbed from the myths and nailed randomly
onto characters in a lazy attempt to imply a depth that doesn't exist. There is a Lysander here, for example, a thousand years before the historical
figure appeared, which is a bit like having Stalin appear at the Battle of Hastings. There is a Minotaur here as well but it is merely a man in a
fancy mask. Unlike Pasolinis' or Fellini's or Gilliam's films, for example, where the same trick is pulled, there is no need for it in a film which is
soaked in the supernatural. It is supposed to suggest that Hyperion has merely mundane powers, but so what? There is also the fact that three of the
four prophetesses, who Hyperion captures early in the film, have no psychic ability whatsoever. Why? Merely to make life easier for the writers: one
love-interest escapee and three innocent and tragic hostages coming up. And the plot slowly staggers on.
Hyperion is looking for an early weapon of mass destruction called the Bow of Epirus which has been hidden somewhere which will provoke genuine, if
unintended, laughter (unless, of course, the director really wanted to turn Aethra's burial into comedy gold). The bow was made by the god Heracles
(this is what the film claims he is, so don't blame me) and acts just like a self-loading bazooka. Hyperion needs it to breach the wall at Helms Deep
(here playing the part of fortifications at Tartarus) which will allow Sauron's CGI army to enter, which will in turn enable Hyperion to free the
Titans who will overthrow the gods. Why? Just because, that's why. He's a bad man.
And so, to the gods... We'll pass over the use of John Hurt for gratuitous gravitas and go straight to their heavenly aspects. What are we to make
of them? Zeus (played in part by Luke Evans) is in charge of a small pantheon of around half-a-dozen gods. Each carries a prop or wears a natty bit
of headgear that substitutes for having a personality. Athena (Isabel Lucas), for example, is the goddess of token chicks and wears a miniskirt but
otherwise is just one of the guys. When the gods arrive on Earth to tag-fight the newly-released Titans at the climax it becomes quite clear that
they are nothing more than a superhero team. Avengers assemble! There may be an argument that superheroes are the modern gods but it is not an argument
that holds up.
Superheroes are merely a side-effect of the limitations of primitive four-colour printing. This, for example, is why Britain, with a black-and-white
printing industry that resulted from an economy of scale, never developed a superhero tradition. To portray the Greek gods as superheroes is, at the
very least, lazy and inelegant, and at worst is cultural vandalism. The immortal gods aren't even immortal in this film since most of them are dead
by the end of it. This will doubtlessly make things awkward for Theseus' son (Gage Munroe) when he grows up and goes off to fight in the Trojan War
but it is unlikely that these will be the filmmakers who will have to deal with that problem.