Movie Review: Bronze Age Beefcake

A bevy of Bronze Age beefcakes face off in something that resembles Greek myth if you kind of squint at it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


After the Greek Gods were victorious in their war against fellow immortals the Titans, the Titans were imprisoned forever in Mount Tartarus. The brutal king Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is in search of the Epirus Bow, a weapon so powerful it could destroy the cage holding the Titans prisoner. Hyperion intends to destroy the gods and conquer the known world in the ensuing chaos. Zeus (Luke Evans) has forbidden the gods from influencing humanity. That leaves only one thing standing in Hyperion’s way: a determined warrior named Theseus (Henry Cavill), accompanied by the oracle Phaedra (Freda Pinto) and the thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff). Theseus also receives help from the gods Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) and Athena (Isabel Lucas), who disobey Zeus’ orders in order to prevent Greece from being destroyed.

Director Tarsem Singh has a knack for visual brilliance, something which he’s displayed in everything from the video for R. E. M.‘s “Losing My Religion” to the films The Cell and The Fall. Immortals does not disappoint in that respect, with each frame as clear and gorgeous as a Caravaggio painting come to life. However, like most of Tarsem’s work, it is a significant victory of style over substance. For all it’s stately beauty and balletic combat scenes, it has a disheartening lack of depth, with little character development, even less character motivation and an entirely nebulous grasp of logic and coherence. That’s not all bad, but it’s not all good either.

She may be prettier, but HE got to borrow Grace Jones’ helmet.

What Tarsem does right is two hours of arresting visuals. Rich colors and deep shadows make a vibrant palette for Tarsem’s vision, with a style that is refreshingly minimalistic and earthy. Aside from the scenes on Mount Olympus, the screen is infused with a core that happens to be both distinctly visceral and surprisingly graceful. Characters and settings often look used and dirty, and combats are often bloody and vicious, all of it still grounded in a very tactile sense of reality. It makes the appearances of the gods, all gleaming and scrubbed clean of mortal filth, all the more striking. Everything is helped by Eiko Ishioka‘s hyper-stylized costume design. Ishioka has done costumes for all of Tarsem’s films, and here she designs both practical, attractive uniforms for Greek soldiers and headpieces for the Olympians that would make Lady Gaga turn chartreuse with envy.

Unfortunately, once the visuals are taken away, there isn’t much left. Most of the blame is to be placed on the script, a nondescript laundry list of adventure-film cliches by brothers Charles and Vlas Parlapanides. There isn’t anything here that hasn’t been hammered to death in every ancient epic film that came before it, although the cast gives the words as much conviction as they can. The score is neither stirring nor memorable, but it gets the job done. The 3D aspects of the film are entirely superfluous and add almost nothing to the film aside from a handful of interesting shots. Blood flies at the screen as heads are lopped off, but it’s completely unnecessary and almost diminishes the quality of the fight choreography.

Theseus brings things to a head.

The film also suffers, unfortunately, from comparisons with 300. Both share the same producers and a similar theme and style. Immortals isn’t nearly as nihilistic, monochromatic or homophobic as 300, and it allows its female characters to be more than concubines and victims. It’s more comfortable with showing male flesh, as well. It shows the audience the beef in a very easy-going manner, whereas 300 came off like a terribly insecure weightlifter desperate to prove his manliness by showing off his pecs. Aside from the music, Immortals does everything 300 does with more confidence (if not always doing it better), but since 300 got there first, Immortals has no choice but to be judged against it.

Both films also wobble under their own self-important weight. They’re both fairly ridiculous in their own ways, but they both take themselves a bit too seriously. Immortals is a little better about it, since it’s a more fantastical film, but unlike similarly bonkers films like The Three Musketeers, Tarsem’s epic never fully grasps the crazy or finds the fun in its excesses. Immortals also seems rushed and shallow like 300, with more attention given to the immediate actions of the characters and little thought to the underlying motivation behind them. The IMDB entry for the film lists a number of characters who are never seen, mostly younger versions of the main cast, suggesting that a good deal of background was trimmed in order to make the film come in under two hours. Even the supporting cast that IS there is woefully underdeveloped.

Left to right: Stephen Dorff, Henry Cavill, Freda Pinto, some guy.

The cast is uniformly decent, though with few true standout performances. Cavill is a very effective action hero, and he tries to do what he can with the tired lines he’s given, including one of the most painfully rehashed war pep talks in recent memory. He delivers the lines very well, but the lines themselves are the problem. That extends to the rest of the cast, filled with a number of talented actors saddled with inane dialogue. Freda Pinto lets her inborn serene beauty do most of the work, but she’s extremely skilled at working that into a good performance. Stephen Dorff is cast perfectly as Stavros, but he’s painfully underused. Mickey Rourke coasts through the film as Hyperion, which still effectively relates the character’s Nietzschean cruelty since, come on, it’s Mickey Rourke. He has a face made to play megalomaniacal warrior-kings. Of the gods, only Luke Evans makes much of an impact as Zeus, mainly because the other gods don’t get enough screen time to register and because it’s a bit jarring—but welcome—to see Zeus as a sleek, handsome young man and not as Lawrence Olivier or his cheaper, Mexican (okay, Irish) equivalent (that would be you, Liam Neeson).

The film doesn’t try to be accurate to either the Greek myths it references or ancient Greek history. Instead, it’s a distillation of Greek myth, in the same way that a role-playing game or video game would be. All the names are there, and sometimes the roles are similar, but that’s where it ends. In Greek mythology, Hyperion is a Titan, but this is never made clear in the film, aside from a few lines that hint at it, and even then it’s doubtful. It goes back to the film’s motivation problem: why would Hyperion want to unleash the Titans—who are little more than super-strong, ravenous primitives akin to the Turok-Han on Buffy The Vampire Slayer—and how would he control them if they defeated the gods? Similarly, in Greek myth, Theseus is the son of Poseidon, but if this is the case with Immortals, it’s never discussed. Often times, however, the reconceptualization of well-known myths gives the film a bit of excitement. Theseus still has to go through a labyrinth and defeat an opponent with the head of a bull, but here the maze is a shrine and burial ground, Theseus marks his way with drops of his own blood and not with string, and the opponent is one of Hyperion’s brutes who has affixed a bull helmet to his head with barbed wire.

Complain about the mythological accuracy at your own peril.

Immortals provides a massive amount of eye candy, from deep and vibrant backgrounds to a never-ending assortment of chiseled pecs and bulging biceps. However, like most candy, it provides a rush that doesn’t last long and is mostly empty calories. Still, sometimes all you want is something to satisfy your sweet tooth, and Immortals does that in spades. Plus, you know, chiseled pecs. You can’t go wrong with chiseled pecs.

Rating: 6 out of 10 / C+


Bronze Age beefacke bulges beautifully, baby.

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and thinks that your gold lamé toga is FAAAbulous.<a href="; title="imageimage

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