Every so often Hollywood produces a historical epic which successfully pushes its lead to superstardom; Russell Crowe in 2000 with Gladiator, Gerard Butler in 2006 with 300, and this in 2011, Immortals with Henry Cavill. In the artistic hands of director Tarsem Singh (The Fall), he was guaranteed to become the new action poster boy. He also displays enough here to show that he’s more than capable of flexing his acting skills, and not just his abs.
In ancient Greece, Theseus (Cavill – TV’s The Tudors, Stardust) is a peasant and witnesses his mother’s death at the hands of the army of King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). He’s mad with power and has, for some redundant reason, declared war on humanity and the Gods by searching for a bow that will release the Titans, an army of evil creatures imprisoned beneath a mountain. The Gods could stop him, but are not allowed to interfere with events on Earth, a rule imposed by a young-looking Zeus (Luke Evans), as they have faith that humanity will succeed in stopping this madman.
As far as casting goes, Cavill looks immense as Theseus, and given what he has to work with he holds up well. Mickey Rourke is his usual gravelly-voiced bad guy self, except he’s creepier thanks to the torture he dishes out (even with his ludicrous headgear). The real surprise though is Stephen Dorff. As Stavros, a slave who helps Theseus, he really seems out of place and half the time you expect him to be killed off (and want him to be, too). Freida Pinto is the eye-candy as Phaera, someone who can see the future, and not much else. The only other noticeable performer is Luke Evans as Zeus. Looking chiselled is just about all he needs to do, as well as putting on his best commanding English accent, of course.
The film’s selling point is undoubtedly the effects; on an appearance scale, it’s astonishing. The actors have been so smoothly integrated with the backdrops that you sometimes feel as if you are watching a moving Renaissance painting. Some of the scenery absolutely bleeds from the screen.
Singh achieved similar recognition for his visual artistry with his debut film, dire Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Cell. Despite this praise, the production values are a mixed bag; it’s well detailed, but a few rubbery-looking breastplates and weapons can easily be spotted, and so can Rourke’s stitched on beard.
Another thing that lets Immortals down (like most modern-made historical films) is the dialogue. Of course nobody knows exactly how people of that period spoke, but it’s pretty certain that sarcasm would not be commonplace. Stephen Dorff is guilty of this – “keeping it real”, to a certain extent. Thankfully, he’s not in every scene. Then there’s the plot; although the film is beautiful to behold, the storyline – particularly the middle act – is stretched to complete meaninglessness, seemingly just for Singh to film some arty shots.
However, the action sequences truly stand out – they are brilliantly made. The last fight scene arguably makes up for the long periods which drag, and for blood-thirsty action fans, having the Gods battle some demonic-looking oddities definitely hits the spot.
Ok, so Immortals won’t reach the same respectability levels as Gladiator or 300, but it’s credible enough, even if it is not taken as seriously as it would like to be – view it as an interesting multimedia art exhibition by the Chapman brothers and you will be entertained.
Finally, let’s not forget our ‘Superman’, Cavill. He gives a good account of himself, but the obligatory rallying-the-troops scene that is obviously meant to be the crowning glory of his performance is neither memorable nor inspiring. It’s not that he doesn’t give his all, it’s just that the scene does not have the same gravitas as Crowe’s “I will have my vengeance” or Butler’s “this is Sparta” speech.
But that’s not to say this reflects badly on him, because he does look like the real deal. We should certainly thank the Gods that this man of steel is another Brit making the grade in Hollywood.