Immortals (2011): Tarsem Singh
The massive success of 300 spawned imitators. The Clash and Wrath of the Titans movies certainly got made thanks to Gerard Butler and his band of shredded abdominals. Falling in middle is the bleak fantasy Immortals, featuring a future Superman.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Humble Greek peasant Theseus must avenge his mother’s death, find a weapon of mass destruction, fight the king of an army, and hope the Olympian gods defeat the Titans, all so he can live a simple life.
You probably know Theseus (Henry Cavill) as the man who slew the minotaur in the labyrinth. In Immortals, he is remembered for this deed.
That famous labyrinth is currently where Theseus’s mother (Anne Day-Jones) works, and is home to the dead. Together they live in the village of Kolpos, on the edge of a cliff at the edge of Greece, and all is well.
Theseus begins his role chopping wood. An old man (John Hurt) is bugging him to take up his sword, which the old man has helped Theseus train with, for the defenseless peoples of the world. Theseus doesn’t want to.
None of these characters know that nearby is the army of the Heraklion, led by their ruthless king Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). Hyperion is at war with the gods, and that leads him to Theseus’s lonely village for some general raping and pillaging.
Theseus stumbles upon this pillaging, where he attacks the troops threatening his mother. Hyperion notes this brash fighter and his mother, and he forces the young man to “witness hell,” before slicing her throat.
Theseus embarks on a journey of pain and redemption. But you don’t care about that. You came here to see gods do fantasy violence, and that’s what you’ll get.
The old man training young Theseus into adulthood turns out to be Zeus (Luke Evans). Zeus has placed a ban on helping humans in their affairs, except sometimes it’s cool if he does it. Zeus believes in the power of humans to right their own wrongs, and he sees Theseus as the embodiment of that power.
A brief period of suffering transports Theseus across Greece to meet a visionary named Phaedra (Freida Pinto). These two link up, in more ways than one (wink wink), and she shares her vision of the future to Theseus. She has seen him embrace Hyperion.
The idea disgusts Theseus for obvious reasons, but she also envisioned him holding the Epirus Bow, a weapon of tremendous power, lost somewhere near the monastery where Phaedra once lived and glimpsed the future.
Theseus finds the bow housed in rock inside the labyrinth after he buries his mother there. This bow is the movie’s MacGuffin, the key to Hyperion’s plans to unleash the titans against the Olympian gods.
The hero finds it first, but he doesn’t keep it for long. Theseus needs some divine intervention to achieve his goals, and that is a MAJOR problem in Immortals. Theseus doesn’t believe in the gods before finding the Bow. A few days later he ascends to the heavens as one of them.
What does he do to deserve such status? Theseus has a late-movie speech to rally the troops guarding Mt. Tartarus, where the titans are imprisoned. These few troops (I won’t say there were 300 of them, but about that many) battle Hyperion’s Heraklion masses long enough to allow Theseus to escape the clash and battle Hyperion.
How is Cavill? A couple years before he assumed the cape to play Superman, he looks gaunt as a muscled Greek peasant-turned-warrior. Cavill is all abs, but he clearly bulked up between this movie and Man of Steel.
Oh, you wanted to know about his acting? Sure you did. It’s fine. He delivers a solid scream upon watching his mother die. His fights scenes are stodgy but bloody. I felt his rage but little else.
More interesting than the characters in Immortals are the ideas they represent. Theseus doesn’t believe in the gods until he finds a weapon of divine power. He fights for them and ascends to the heavens for having a righteous soul.
Hyperion always believed in the gods. He hates them. He watched his wife and child die from disease, and the gods did nothing. Hyperion’s war is to “end the reign of gods.”
The Heraklion king ravages Greece (the Hellenic people, they are called) searching for the Epirus Bow. This bow is the only weapon that can unleash the titans, deities imprisoned by the Olympian gods in an ancient war.
Hyperion’s quest leads him to the Sybelline Monastery in 1228 B.C., where the Bow is said to be. He captures Phaedra and mines the area around the structure. The Bow isn’t there, as we find out later, but we don’t know why.
Hyperion has ideas for the world after the gods fall. He plans to plant his seed in as many wombs as possible. Genetic immortality is his idea. Theseus, on the other hand, has other ideas. “Deeds are eternal,” he tells Hyperion, “not the flesh.”
This dichotomy drives everything they do. When a Greek traitor begs to join Hyperion, the king orders a crony to smash his reproductive organs with a mallet. “The future of your bloodline ends here tonight,” he says.
Rourke brings interesting tics to his character. He spits a lot. He wears a very cool scarab helmet. His face has claw scars on it. Rourke seems to be going through the motions, classic paycheck acting. He sets a monk on fire, but the idea seems to garner no emotion in him.
Hyperion claims to have risen from peasanthood to become king, and he offers Theseus a seat at the head of his table, something the snobby Greeks would never allow.
Immortals’s best aspect is its style. Clearly inspired (some might say ripped off) by 300, this movie has an aesthetic that is bleak, partly thanks to a 3D rendering during the height of that craze, and partly because who wants to see Greece as the sunny, island paradise we know it to be?
Theseus and his neighbors live in a village on the edge of a cliff. You might say Greece was living on the edge at the time, and mean it literally and figuratively.
Most ancient battles went to the side with more soldiers. The Heraklion appear to have a limitless army as they ravaged the Hellenistic people. They don’t have archers or cavalry, nor do the Greeks.
We only see the bad guys fight the Greeks in the end, and inside a tunnel neutralizing their numerical advantage and nulling their chance to outflank the Greek side.
We see more fighting from the gods. They are dressed to impress, so we might as well see what they can do. Here’s a fire whip Zeus uses.
Pretty cool, eh? The 3D craze reached its apotheosis in the years following Avatar, and Immortals works hardest to show off this technology. You can see an example here.
Greek myths are stuffed with gods and demi-gods, and Immortals suffers heavily for it. The Olympians show zero adherence to logic or rules in their actions. Zeus spends most of Theseus’s life training him, goading him into warrior-hood, before unilaterally declaring that the gods cannot help humans, under penalty of death.
When two gods defy Zeus’s order, literally saving Theseus’s life in the slave pit beside the monastery, Zeus fire whips Ares to death but spares Athena. He offers no reason for his capricious behavior, but we know from previous scenes that he holds his daughter Athena above the other deities.
Poseidon helps Theseus and his crew seize a Heraklion ship, and Zeus either doesn’t know about this or doesn’t care. Why Poseidon helped him is unclear.
I know the gods were confusing in their motivations, but Immortals doesn’t exactly strive for realism. When the characters seem to behave as narrative devices meant to save writers from tight spaces, that’s a huge problem that can’t be explained away as “adherence to source material.” We are millennia removed from that source material.
The human sidekicks are more interesting. Phaedra (not a new blood pressure drug) can see the future but doesn’t have the power to change it. “See” is a strong word, too. “What I see is only a glimmer of what may come to pass,” she tells Theseus.
To retain her power she must remain a virgin. Phaedra starts the movie with three other oracles who do not have foresight but are there to disguise her identity, Spartacus style. Phaedra meets Theseus at a salt mine, where she glimpses him with the Bow and Hyperion. She orchestrates an escape that night, giving Theseus the will to live.
After running from Hyperion’s troops for a few days, Phaedra decides “my visions are a curse.” She and Theseus make love that night, and she will give birth to a son after the movie’s climax. This boy will have visionary powers as well.
Hyperion receives aid from Lysander (Jospeh Morgan), a Greek soldier who refused to let Theseus join a convoy because he was a peasant. Theseus beats up Lysander and nearly the entire retinue for the poor jokes, and the fight gets Lysander disarmed. Lysander believes (unrelated to this fight?) that the Heraklion, on their way to the village, are unstoppable, and he betrays them to pledge allegiance to Hyperion.
Life deteriorates rapidly for Lysander. Hyperion dislikes traitors, so he smashes Lysander’s nuts and bolts into oblivion. He asks for his advice a couple of times, and then he’s sent away.
Hyperion’s chief slave is a man called the Beast. This guy wears a helmet of thorns shaped like a bull’s head. He is the famed minotaur that Theseus kills after finding the Epirus Bow.
The Beast finds Theseus in the labyrinth and tosses him around after throwing a butcher’s knife at him. Theseus battles back, plunging the blade into the Beast’s knee and leaving it there for a while, but the Beast doesn’t seem to mind. He toys with him for a while, throwing him into the wall. Theseus ends the battle by beheading him.
Someone was watching Oldboy while thinking about this movie. Theseus twice fights through a wave of enemies in a narrow passage with the camera tracking his movements. He attacks forward, killing and maiming several, while no one thinks to come behind him.
Such scenes look neat, but they belie a problem. It’s not how fights work. You can’t attack people in a line like it’s Super Mario Brothers. You’ll see the choreography easily when fights happen in this way.
Theseus sees the Herakleon soldiers killing his villagers. When one has a knife to his mother’s throat, Theseus must act. He screams. All the soldiers line up for him. Theseus attacks with a spear into the first guy’s face, then some stabs and slices into other, dodging most attacks. He picks up another spear and hurls it 20 yards into the torso of the man threatening his mother.
Soon the soldiers have him surrounded and toss a net over him, about to kill him, before Hyperion orders it stopped.
The big ending occurs after Theseus leaves the fight with the Heraklion.
While the badasses fight for the future of Greece inside a tunnel, the named characters do battle upstairs, in the heart of Tartarus. Hyperion releases the Titans, and that causes the Olympians to descend from the heavens in full golden armor.
The gods order Theseus to flee and find Hyperion, which he does, because he’s a good boy. The Titans are running around the pit surrounding their cage, screeching like barbarians. They’ve been locked in a cage with rebar in their teeth for countless eons, so it makes sense they’d enjoy being let loose.
The Titans ashy, black skin contrasts well with the Olympian gold. The party starts as the gods and Titans run around the enclosure, bashing skulls and slicing guts. One of the better effects shows the consequences of Olympian power. When the gods strike with their weapons, the Titans turn into slow motion, but the gods, in the same frame, are normal speed.
It’s an impressive sight to see Zeus maraud four Titans with a chain, watching them fall slowly as he rips through another. Athena beheads a half-dozen Titans. Poseidon impales a Titan, rips its head off, and soccer kicks it into another Titan.
The first god to die is, uh, one of the ones starting with A. Not sure which. Poseidon does some sweet decapitations with his trident. Zeus works his chain further, including slicing a Titan in half head to toe. It’s not until Athena gets walloped and impaled that Zeus is sad. That’s his daughter! Although, all these gods are his kin, so why doesn’t he love them as much?
What about the humans? Theseus searches for Hyperion and is found by him in a small adjacent room adorned with war images. Hyperion chokes Theseus, who gouges Hyperion’s eye, who knees and twice stabs him in the gut.
Theseus falls to the floor. “Die with your gods,” Hyperion says, which gives Theseus a second wind. Remember, this dude killed Theseus’s mom. He responds with leaping attacks and pins Hyperion’s neck to the wall with his forearm. Hyperion grapples and body slams his opponent.
Theseus beats back Hyperion by blocking further knife attacks. The two circle each other. Hyperion goes for more knife attacks that are blocked before he’s kicked away. Hyperion wails longer on Theseus, toying with the man. A gong sounds like a boxing match.
Hyperion sighs over Theseus with the ease of his victory. “What does it feel like knowing there’ll be no memory of you?” he asks Theseus. “My deeds,” Theseus says, “will go down in history.” The bad guy counters, “I’m writing your history.” Theseus responds by stabbing Hyperion in the foot with a piece of shrapnel. One barrel roll to gain the upper hand and he’s got the knife at Hyperion’s throat. “I’m the last thing you will ever see,” Theseus says as he plunges the knife in Hyperion’s throat.
Not the finest kill line; it’s a statement of fact. Meanwhile, as Athena’s life chokes out, she says, “Father, don’t forsake mankind.” Zeus agrees. He steps atop the cage and rips up two chains holding the mountain together. Zeus zaps himself and Athena back to Olympus. The mountain crumbles outside, but only on the side of the Heraklion.
Oh, and Theseus, he’s zapped to the heavens as well. Why? Because the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine. he’ll be ready for the divine war his son envisions. Sequel?
I don’t think there was a single joke in this movie.
I’ve been to Greece before, and I’m pretty sure the sky is blue, the islands welcoming, and the sea not covered in oil. The Greece of Immortals is bleak. Why would anyone live there?
The labyrinth was excellent. It’s walls a textured black that seemed to swallow light, what you’d expect an inescapable maze to do. The center of the labyrinth was tiered staircases as reflecting pools that would make Donald Trump drool were he into black.
Genes or stories? Which is more important for the future? That’s at heart of the battle between Theseus and Hyperion. The king wants to spread his seed to many, much like Genghis Khan and the two million people who can trace their lineage back to him.
Theseus is convinced that deeds are immortal. I agree. The only reason we’re talking about either of these guys is their deeds in history. Was there a Hyperion? I have no idea. Was there a Theseus? Probably, but without the gods and minotaur and Titans and oil sea and such.
The 100-times-removed grandson of Hyperion isn’t thanking his distant ancestor for the pecs he inherited. He might have thanked him for destroying Greece and promoting the history of Heraklionic culture, had Hyperion succeeded in ending Greek culture.
Phaedra has the power of foresight. As soon as she gives that up, by losing her virginity, she is cast aside plot-wise to make way for the son she will produce, who will have her skill but also be a man. It’s as if the writers actually believed that virgin women were more important than deflowered women.
- Only the oracle quartet speak in a foreign language. Why?
Summary (23/68): 34%
Immortals is not a good movie, but it has elements you might enjoy. It’s aesthetic is the movie’s strongest selling point–at least it looks different. And it’s got abs.