'Immortals' stuns visually, stumbles narratively, critics say
November 11, 2011
Without a big-name star to bank on, the new sword-and-sandals action movie "Immortals," directed by Tarsem Singh, has been ceaselessly touted in ads as being "from the producers of '300.' " Like that film, "Immortals" is chock-full of striking visuals, muscle-bound warriors and bloody battles. What's missing, critics are saying, is a coherent narrative.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey asks, "Where are the gods of Olympus when you need them?" and laments that "mere mortals were apparently not able to create a movie that actually made sense." It's not all bad — Tarsem (who prefers to go by his first name) is "a visual visionary," and star Henry Cavill is "magnetic as Theseus" — but the script, by Greek American brothers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, is overstuffed and illogical.
Richard Corliss, in Time, classifies the film as "great-looking but brain-dead," comparing it to a "Grand Theft Auto"-style video game with its macho thirst for over-the-top violence (and a bit of sex thrown in for good measure). "Immortals" delivers "an intoxicating visualization of mythical Greece," Corliss writes, but looks will only get you so far. "The pity is that Tarsem's intelligence doesn't connect his cinematic eye to his narrative mind. The director's visual gift is like a brilliant retina, detached."
Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr thus ranks "Immortals" in the pantheon of mythological movies: "The film's not as good as '300,' better than the recent 'Clash of the Titans' remake, and on a par with those sword-and-sandals programmers Steve Reeves made in the late 1950s." Burr deems Tarsem the film's "ace in the hole" and "a unique talent ... [who] has yet to make a completely satisfying movie." Burr also echoes Corliss in his appraisal of "Immortals" as "simply the latest video game disguised as a film."
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert matter-of-factly states, " 'Immortals' is without a doubt the best-looking awful movie you will ever see."
Pressing on, he praises Eiko Ishioka's fanciful costume designs as worthy of an Oscar nomination. "Alas," Ebert writes, "the movie makes next to no sense." In the end, he finds "Immortals" to be something of a curiosity, comparing it to Tarsem's previous effort, "The Fall," which he once reviewed as "a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists."
Paul Brunick, writing for the New York Times, pans "Immortals" as a "jumbled epic of absurd coincidences and logical gaps [that] can barely track its internal mythology." He's just getting started. The 3-D conversion is a "disaster," the imagery is "overstuffed with computer-generated chintz" and the "overtones of sexual sadism are crude and creepy." Riffing on the famous line from "300," Brunick concludes, "This — is — stupid."
But Variety's Peter Debruge asserts that "Immortals" is a film for fanboys, one in which concern for mythological accuracy "will merely get in the way of this slow-building, hyperstylized pastiche." Cavill is "charismatic enough," Mickey Rourke is "a formidable villain" and the visuals are "richly textured." The film is illogical, sure, but at least it manages "to justify staging a fight scene for the ages."
If the initial reviews are any indication, "Immortals" won't live forever in the annals of cinema. But, hey, if you like video games....