In the wake of Zack Snyder’s 300 and Louis Le Terrier’s Clash of the Titans comes Immortals, Tarsem Singh’s fast and loose reinterpretation of Theseus and the Minotaur. While there is little onscreen to reassure classicists that the filmmakers know their Greek mythology, more forgiving or ambivalent audiences should find something to enjoy in this bloody slice of sword and sandal escapism.
Indian director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar has built a notable reputation for his jaw-dropping visuals, and its no surprise that he has spent the bulk of his career working in advertising and music videos. Immortals is only Tarsem’s third feature, following The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006), but his primary focus remains the film’s visual aesthetic, and Immortals clearly takes a page from Snyder’s 300 in its earth-toned, over-processed exteriors, populated by glimmering, blood-drenched warriors.
The action takes place in a number of impressively conceived locations, such as Theseus’ home village, which resides in a small enclave on remote cliff face, perfect for swooping aerial shots but wholly impractical for actual daily living. Likewise, the outrageous costumes conceived by Japanese Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka, present headdresses resembling lampshades, a helmet reminiscent of a horned Venus flytrap and a Minotaur head fashioned from razorwire. Nothing in Tarsem’s world of gods and mortals can be considered real, and Immortals plays like the enthusiastic nightmares of an impressionable young mind.
Tarsem has assembled a handsome cast, with Henry Cavill making a noble and courageous Theseus, which should reassure viewers he will make a fine Superman in next year’s Man of Steel. Going against tradition, young actors rather than bearded wisened elders play the gods, with Luke Evans proving suitably patriarchal as Zeus, while the likes of Kellan Lutz and Daniel Sharman sit around awkwardly in silly hats.
Unsurprisingly, women are rather poorly represented. Isabel Lucas does little as Athena beyond speaking in a slow ethereal voice, while Anne Day-Jones as Theseus’ mother seems present solely to motivate her son into action. Frieda Pinto brings beauty but little else to her role of Virgin Oracle Phaedra, and is not with Theseus more than 48 hours before she loses both to his charms. However, Mickey Rourke’s delightfully grizzled Warrior King Hyperion, decimating all before him and even upstaging Tarsem’s hyperactive palette, rightly steals the show. The personification of Hell on Earth, he defies the gods at every turn, while hacking and slashing his way to Mount Tartarus to release an army of imprisoned Titans.
To highlight each instance Tarsem rewrites or disregards Greek mythology would be a futile pursuit, suffice to say Immortals will teach you nothing of worth, merely paying lip service to some of its more notable characters as it proceeds with its own fantastical story of war, faith and heroism. Characterisation rarely extends beyond “Good” and “Evil” but if you want for nothing more than to see ripped greased-up men slash each other to ribbons, Tarsem delivers with some audacity.