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Immortals Sucks. Sorry I Don’t Have a Funnier Title Than That

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

immortals-posterlImmortals (2011)
Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz.

Relativity Media and Rogue Pictures should be thankful that they released Immortals the same week as Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, which has turned into the One-Stop Shopping place for hilariously negative reviews. The Adam Sandler beat-up took the attention away from Immortals’s poor reviews, and likely helped push the film to its #1 spot at the box office for the weekend. I can imagine the scene at the multiplexes:

“So, honey, what do you want to see?”

“Anything but Jack and Jill.”

“Okay, how about that thing that looks like Clash of the Titans?”

But even though watching Immortals meant that I wasn’t watching Jack and Jill and therefore helping the betterment of global society, I ain’t letting Immortals off the hook for a moment. Except to praise the wacky headgear.

In a development so startling it may upset the balance between Law and Chaos, Immortals manages to be a worse fantasy movie than the recent Conan the Barbarian. If you understand how much I loathe the Marcus Nispel Conan fiasco, you know that I do not make that statement lightly.

Why does the international movie world (this is far from being just a “Hollywood” issue) hate Greek Mythology so much? Why do they feel they can pilfer a few elements from these stories that form the basis of Western culture, and give the finger to what actually makes them work? Using characters like Theseus and Perseus, but robbing them entirely of their mythic context and what makes them fascinating is . . . well, stupid. Except from the pure cash perspective (Clash of the Titans cleaned up internationally, and Immortals is top of the charts and will have huge international as well), the only thing that matters.

Sigh. I argue in a void. But I believe that trying to really work with Greek myth could produce a film both visually exciting and dramatically and thematically compelling. Something that Immortals fails at entirely. It’s overdone visual garbage and a narrative disaster.

Not a Minotaur

Not a Minotaur


The main character of the movie is named “Theseus” (Henry Cavill), and although there are some hand-waving gestures to pretend he has some connection to famous hero of Athens, this is just an impostor created for a new, bland story. The king of Crete (Mickey Rourke), named Hyperion for some reason, and leading a group called the Heraklions, for some reason, is looting made-up holy places in Greece so he can obtain the Epirus Bow and release the imprisoned Titans so they may bring down the Olympians. The Heraklions kill Theseus’s mother, and with some prompting from a disguised Zeus (John Hurt) and an oracle (Frieda Pinto), he sets out to do the required heroic things shown in the trailer.

After about fifteen minutes, there is no point in paying attention to the story. The film has no interest in telling it to you. Events crowd onto the screen, scenes fall next to each without any sense that one connects to the other except for chronological proximity, and the feeling is that the plot is treading water and trying to disguise it by occasionally throwing bloody chum around to attract sharks. But sharks won’t eat characters this flavorless, so they never arrive.

One of the worst crimes that a film (or book) can commit is to force the audience to ask every few minutes, “So what?” and have no answer. Looking at the story from a distance, such as writing the above plot synopsis, the stakes appear obvious. But never in the film do they feel this way. The story and characters are walking in a circle, achieving nothing. The heroes wander about on the same three sets for most of the film, interrupted with scenes of Mickey Rourke interrogating and then killing someone. This goes on and on until the ludicrous final battle.

immortals-guy-in-paisley

So it is a terrible story, told terribly. That double-tap will kill any movie. But I want to combat one of the few items of praise other critics have given the movie even as they shred it. Immortals is not a gorgeous film. It’s an ugly, overburdened mess with no sense of a consistent culture to it. Director Tarsem Singh claimed he wanted to reference Renaissance art in the film’s look, to create, and I quote: “Caravaggio meets Fight Club.” I think he meant he wanted a complicated backdrop with shirtless guys hitting each other in the foreground. He did achieve that it, and it looks awful.

What makes the film’s crazy-quilt design extra grating is that it is supposed to be historical. In a self-defeating move, a title card announces in the second scene that it is “1228 B.C.” Really? You want to be that specific for your outrageous, unreal fantasy flick? Why not tell me if that’s Wednesday as well? If the film announces that kind of date, putting us in the late Bronze Age palace society of Mycenaean Greece, it better try to look something like it. But I saw one — count ‘em, one — location in the movie that reminded me of Mycenaean architecture. And it’s a small room that appears for a few minutes.

There is also nothing in the movie that relates to anything real in late Mycenaean Greece. Instead, there are a bunch of lame faux-Greek names like “Hellenics” and “Heraklions” and a ream of fake cities. It is asinine to ignore that treasure trove of the time period, both in visuals and story-telling possibilities, and instead make a connect-the-dot generic fantasy rip-off of 300 and the Clash of the Titans re-make. It is flat-out lazy, lazy filmmaking.

“You’d tell me if I looked stupid in this, right?”

“You’d tell me if I looked stupid in this, right?”

Immortals is extremely violent, earning the “R” with numerous decapitations, throat-slashings, and other side-effects of swinging around sharp pointy objects in a crowd of near-naked people. It’s boring violence as well, carrying no impact because the stylizations of the fight scenes reduces them to “who cares who kill whom?” levels. Besides, I’ve seen the 2007 Rambo, and that raised the bar impossibly high for gore in a mainstream action film. (Villains who bayonet babies! Nobody will beat that. Nobody should try.)

Considering the epic nature of the story, the action scenes feel weirdly constricted. The final battle takes place packed inside a hall, making it seem that a war broke out between class bells. The characters spend most of their time in the same three or four locations, and the geography of the movie is so poor that it feels the story is taking place entirely on one soundstage. (Which it probably was, but you don’t want the audience thinking that.) I don’t think “cramped” was what the filmmakers were going for in making a fantasy epic, but that’s what they got.

Oh, and there’s no Minotaur. Seriously! In a wild supernatural fantasy film about Theseus, where the gods and the titans are real and people fight with magic weapons, somebody thought that the Minotaur had to be “realistic.” There’s a burly guy wearing a wire bull helmet, looking for all the world like he got lost from the set of an leather fetish version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but no real Minotaur. This isn’t a Mary Renault novel! Give me a damn human-bull hybrid monster!

The movie does contain two minor “pros.” First is the regatta of hilarious headgear. The Olympians apparently rummaged through cast-offs from the wardrobe of a Lady Gaga video for their helmets. Poor Mickey Rourke gets stuck in a helmet that makes it look like someone should grab his legs and use him to trim the topiary animals. I can’t imagine the costume crew wasn’t doubling over with laughter each time they presented these ludicrous designs and director Tarsem Singh approved them. (“What an idiot! He fell for it!” I bet that’s on the crew T-shirts.)

“You would tell me, right?”

“You would tell me, right?”


The second “pro” is Athena (Isabel Lucas) slicing open a bunch of people. The goddess is poorly cast in the “fashion model” style and lacks any trace of Athena’s fabled wisdom, but she’s my favorite god from any religion in any time period, so it’s a pleasure watching her bust heads.

Lead man Henry Cavill is our upcoming Superman, and I feel confident he’ll do well as the Man of Steel. But that’s because I’ve seen him in other movies; based on Immortals alone, I would lose all hope for the upcoming Superman epic. Like some of the other performers in the movie, Freida Pinto in particular, these are fine actors stuck with a nothing script and flat-line direction. They all seem to be trying — except for Mickey Rourke, who appears to labor under the effects of heavy pain medication because of the weight of his silly helmet. The Vicodin bills on the budget sheet must have dwarfed the cost of craft service by a factor of ten.

And did John Hurt need a paycheck that much? John, if you need some money, I’m sure people all over the world will gladly give you the $7–$10 admission price and skip the film.

I cannot recommend Immortals on any level. There is nothing non-ironic to enjoy here except as an example of the worst trends in fantasy filmmaking that have developed over the last five years.

In closing, I would like to draw attention to two twentieth-century novels about Theseus that explore the myth in fascinating ways, both of which are worthy of big-screen adaptations: The King Must Die by Mary Renault and Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson.


Ryan Harvey is a veteran blogger for Black Gate and an award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author. He received the Writers of the Future Award in 2011 for his short story “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” and has two stories forthcoming in Black Gate and a number of ebooks on the way. He also knows Godzilla personally. You can keep up with him at his website, www.RyanHarveyWriter.com, and follow him on Twitter.

10 Comments »

  1. Sorry, I saw both Conan and Immortals but I just can’t give Immortals the edge over Conan as worst film of the year. Agreed with all your points otherwise, although I did enjoy that absolute destructive melee power of Gods versus Humans. Now that is how it should be, like not a chance in hell of even seeing, let alone hitting, one of the gods.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - November 15, 2011 6:58 pm

  2. Its pretty bad when the trailer looked bad for this. At least most bad action movie trailers look good.

    Comment by Glenn - November 15, 2011 8:18 pm

  3. Dude…

    You must have really hated this movie.

    I agree that it’s not a “good” movie. I do NOT agree that it wasn’t visually striking. The ludicrous headgear, the over-the-top action scenes, they were all part of the extreme visual style. THAT I dug.

    The problem was that a movie isn’t just a collection of pretty pictures.

    There was no story here. And the actors weren’t challenged to reach or find anything deep about their characters. It was all surface…and no substance. No matter how gorgeous (and gorgeously ridiculous) the surface is, the emptiness within leaves you feeling hollow.

    Visually very cool. Cinematically a failure. Story-wise, apallingly shitty.

    But worse than CONAN? Gods, no.

    I agree with Scott’s point: the ONLY thing I really enjoyed about this movie was the “Gods-in-action” scenes. Which seems to be the whole point of the movie: THAT GODS CAN REALLY KICK ASS.

    IMMORTALS and CONAN were both little better than watching your friend play a cool-looking videogame. To quote Iggy and the Stooges: “No fun.”

    Comment by John R. Fultz - November 15, 2011 10:10 pm

  4. Was the headgear really as silly as in the Sci Fi channel’s Dune miniseries? Because that really set the bar for me for the sheer pervasiveness of ridiculous hats as a visual shorthand for cultural difference.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - November 16, 2011 12:30 am

  5. Agreed not the best of movies, but still better than Conan-minus-its-first-20-minutes.

    Agreed a rude, stupid, unnecessary insult to Greek mythology on any point that matters.

    Agreed that Cavill was lame; disagree that there is still hope for the new Superman.

    Agree that Rourke’s headgear was ridiculous, as were many of the gods’.

    Agree that there wasn’t much of a coherent or appealing story…

    …yet I enjoyed it. My daughter enjoyed it. This movie is for simply watching, quickly, without thought or concentration, action eye candy. Because even demonstrating/displaying the power of gods as the power of gods (YES!) couldn’t entertain long enough all by itself. Though it’s close.

    Comment by Jason M. Waltz - November 16, 2011 7:47 pm

  6. I was confounded by the lack of motivations and hypocritical nonsense.

    The only inner character conflict was that the characters conflicted with their own motivations. It was almost as if the writers hadn’t drafted up characters, merely vague ideas about who was going to wear what costume. That way, when a character acted out of line, it fit because there was no line in the first place.

    <<<<<>>>>

    Zeus was the most perplexing of them all. No god can help the humans in god form or he’ll kill them? Really? Pretty bold for a dude who was merely in disguise. As if shape-changing makes a difference whether or not you’re influencing the humans. And to kill his son Ares, the God of War, over helping the humans when its likely you’ll be fighting the titans again in an epic battle? WTF? Why didn’t he kill Athena and Poseidon then too? She’s his daughter, and Poseidon’s his brother?

    The fighting had no meaning but was mildly entertaining. I’ve never seen anybody slice and dice with a trident before. Gladitorial fights only use them for stabbing. That said, the Titans were pretty lame combatants. Rather than have immortal, named foes, they were just an endless army of red-helmed dudes with bad complexion. Fodder for the slaughter.

    Still, I’ve seen worse and with the lack of fantasy/mythological options out there it was better than nothing.

    Comment by NewGuyDave - November 17, 2011 6:12 pm

  7. It’s supposed to say spoilers in the brackets. Sorry, don’t know what happened there.

    Comment by NewGuyDave - November 17, 2011 6:13 pm

  8. So did 300 — I literally could not watch it.

    Comment by C - Foxessa - November 17, 2011 9:00 pm

  9. Fulci did lighting bows so much better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwi9pudxLWE. Also, why do they have to make characters speak in ancient greek that barely make sense? The only one who could pull this off is probably Christopher Lee, and that’s because he has actually studied ancient greek…

    Comment by periklis - November 26, 2011 11:18 pm

  10. […] dust two of last year’s sloppy epic fantasies, Conan the Thing I’d Like to Forget Happened and Immortals. Both of those films sport slathered-on exaggerated fantasy appearances, but forgot to have them […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Black Gate Goes to the Summer Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman - June 5, 2012 1:48 am


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