IMMORTALS does not limit itself to the traditional myth of the hero Theseus and his tussle with the minotaur in a labyrinth. Rather, elements of that myth of interwoven with several others in a concoction that provides the pleasure of identifying the disparate tales in a setting that is a delicious Grand Guignol of elegantly decadent flourishes. If Henry Cavill doesnt have quite the spark to bring stalwart Theseus to demigod-like life, the stylized visual panoply and direction by Tarsem Singh (THE FALL) has the right sense of hushed reverence for the story of how the Olympic gods discovered that death was part of their birthright, and that their fate hinged on the actions of a mere mortal.
As the lynchpin of divine survival Theseus is an unusual candidate. The bastard son of a shunned but pious woman, he is scorned by his betters, but taken under wing by an old man (John Hurt) with a gift for teaching the art of combat. When the evil Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) decides to get revenge on the gods by unleashing their sworn enemies, the Titans, from their prison under Mount Tartarus by means of the Bow of Epirus, its Theseus in whom a wonderfully charismatic Zeus (Luke Evans getting a promotion from Apollo in CLASH OF THE TITANS) places his full confidence. Bowing to the cosmic order of things, he forbids the other gods from interfering with the action as gods, a nice loophole, in order to allow human free will and faith to decide the outcome. That outcome takes a suitably labyrinthine path upon which Theseus challenges the status quo, gains a best pal in thief Stephen Dorff, and finds love with the virgin oracle (Frieda Pinto) whose troubling visions provide mystical guidance along the route.
By tweaking the myth, the story allows for unexpected twists as it progresses, including a nod to the cosmology of Mithras that is wonderfully ecumenical, tapping nicely into a sense of tales from the time of heroes, not our own. In keeping with primordial tone, the computer-generated sets and landscapes are cyclopean, part and parcel of many traditions and slave to none. There is bloodletting in great gobbets of pluming and exuberant gore, roiling scenes of seething battles involving thousands of combatants, and a color palette of somber earth tones with great slashes of crimson and sparkling gold. The hero is suitably solemn and noble, with a properly chiseled physique and firm set to his handsome jaw emblematic of his unswerving dedication to defeating the villain. The villain is suitably solemn and wicked, with a flair for torture both physical and psychological. Rourke is shambling and shaggy with a growl of a voice, but evincing a paradoxical detachment from his stated goal of showing the gods who is boss. Its symptomatic of the curious lack of energy throughout, one that a ringing performance by either Cavill or Rourke or both that could have remedied, elevating this interesting film into one that is a guilty pleasure or better. Certainly late in the proceedings, an interesting subtext of barbarians versus civilization is introduced that shows the strengths and weaknesses of each sides mindset, but its a topic relegated to a sadly ancillary status.
IMMORTALS looks gorgeous. The CGI is rendered with imaginative care and a real sense of wonder and danger in underscoring the action. It is the real star of IMMORTALS, so much so that when it ends with the promise of a sequel, it inspires hope that another venture into this territory will be far more satisfying.