Film Review: Immortals

Note to lazy students: A failing grade awaits all those who rely on this film to get them through Greek Mythology 101. But as old-school epic entertainment dressed up with state-of-the-art effects, 'Immortals' rates an easy A.

1238 BC: Brutal Heraklion King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is obsessed with ensuring his place in history and believes his best bet is to find the legendary Bow of Epirus, a mystical weapon that can turn a mere mortal into a one-man army. It can also free the bestial Titans, an ancient race of immortals overthrown and imprisoned beneath Mount Tartarus by the gods of Olympus. Not that it's clear why one would want to do such a thing: The odds that the Titans would submit to being any puny human's dogs of war seem slim. Be that as it may, Hyperion both kidnaps virgin oracle Phaedra (Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto) and looses his masked army to rape and pillage its way across Greece; if Phaedra's visions don't lead him to the bow, maybe an old-fashioned reign of terror will.

The small cliff-side village where fatherless Theseus (Henry Cavill, the new Superman) lives with his pious mother (Anne Day-Jones) is one of many in the path of Hyperion's troops. Unbeknownst to anyone, himself included, Theseus is no mere peasant in thrall to pipe dreams of heroism: The elderly mentor (John Hurt) who trained him to fight is the god Zeus himself and Theseus is destined for greatness. But he must first endure the consequences of hubris: By humiliating a warrior named Lysander (Joseph Morgan, of the 2009 Ben-Hur miniseries), he brings about the destruction of his village, his mother's death and his own enslavement. But those events also cause his path to intersect with Phaedra's, and with the help of a wily thief (Stephen Dorff) and a loyal monk (Greg Bryk), he embarks on an epic journey to recover the bow and inspire his countrymen to defy Hyperion. The Olympians—who include the young and vital Zeus (Luke Evans), Athena (Isabel Lucas), Aries (Daniel Sharman) and Poseidon (Kellan Lutz, of the Twilight series)—watch from on high and, when it suits them, ignore the fact that they're forbidden to interfere in the affairs of men.

A muscular mash-up of classical mythology, Italian peplums and macho preening, Immortals is deeply indebted to 300, especially in its deliriously bloody battle sequences and fetishistic fascination with lightly clad male flesh. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. The videogame look that dominates the trailers is less obtrusive in the film itself, and the fact that Immortals' leanly muscled gods, who spend much of their time lolling divinely around Olympus in gilded-leather skirts and fabulous headgear, owe a great deal to Bruce of Los Angeles physique photography and James Bidgood's lavishly art-directed Pink Narcissus can be ignored by viewers who'd rather not acknowledge the pervasive homoeroticism (which extends to an 11th-hour vision of the ongoing war in Heaven as one long upskirt shot).

John Hurt's opening and closing voiceover narration appears intended to give the film a certain gravitas and fails. But director Tarsem Singh's visual imagination is truly extraordinary, and Immortals is both as consistently astonishing as his criminally underrated The Fall (2006) and far more engaging than last year's instantly forgettable remake of Clash of the Titans.