Friday, January 20, 2012

Men and monsters

(From the Jan. 1-15 issue of The Fortnightly)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Just a year after the “Clash of the Titans” remake, Greek mythology is reimagined once again in the eye-popping fantasy actioner “Immortals,” a visually striking if unevenly paced film by Tarsem Singh.

And just like “Clash,” the extraordinary feats of the gods and the bold conflicts of mortals converge in an effects-drenched canvas, often enhancing the rather simple tale involving revenge and mythic enmities.

“Immortals” follows the saga of a peasant outcast, Theseus (Henry Cavill), favored by the father-king of the Olympian gods, Zeus (Luke Evans). Theseus’ mother is killed in a village raid led by cruel King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who’s after a fabled weapon that can free the long-imprisoned Titans.

Arch-foes and defeated predecessors to the gods, the savage Titans depicted here are humanoid-looking beings trapped in a location that’s accessible to some humans, oddly enough. Zeus sternly forbids his god relatives from interfering in the affairs of mortals, but some of them do so anyway, repeatedly protecting Theseus’ small band of renegades behind his back.

“Immortals” feels like a working mishmash of the aforementioned “Clash of the Titans” and Zack Snyder’s “300,” a testosterone-y and bloody sword-and-sorcery epic that should please mainstream comic book geeks. It’s got the cosmic, thunderous climactic duels that “Thor” and “Green Lantern” didn’t deliver. It does, however, take some time to get there; scenes between furious stunts and effects enhancements are often sluggish.

Theseus is pretty much the unerring hero who easily wins over the vague prophetess Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and the supposed scoundrel Stavros (Stephen Dorff). The peasant hero expectedly rallies forces against the tyrant Hyperion, who typically underestimates his inexperienced opponents. And buff Zeus is an optimistic but wrathful god, a less than omniscient being lording it over family members with switchable personalities.

Be that as it may, it does some things differently. Singh has command of challenging imagery, even when they don’t really make sense. Remember his cool but too art-conscious “The Cell”? “Immortals” is a tad toned down, but most of the costumes still look like they’re House of Gaga-worthy. The fancy and ornate hats, helmets and battle armors look music video-ready, but they’re imaginative designs and they complement the scenarios well.

Demigod-like Cavill, the latest actor cast as Superman, is decent as vengeful Theseus, but Rourke is the scene-stealer, always icky and discomfiting as the vile warrior-king. Their confrontation and Theseus’ fisticuffs with Hyperion’s “Minotaur” henchman are aptly vicious. Other stunning action scenes include the destructive plunge of Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) and Zeus’ punishment of a law-breaking Olympian.

The quests aren’t anything new and a couple of characters are either annoying or two-dimensional (although “Vampire Diaries” fans may appreciate Joseph Morgan’s traitorous soldier character getting beat up).

Style also often overpowers what little substance it has, but “Immortals” is a popcorn movie that wields its superficiality and flashy fury quite adeptly. 

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