November 11, 2011


“The director is God.”  It’s a saying that has been applied to directors of both stage and screen.  Directors (theoretically) control every aspect of a production and they marshal armies of various departments to bring forth a vision.  Director Tarsem Singh took the saying as the subtext for his new movie, Immortals.  Singh has always been an indulgent visual stylist, but with Immortals, he has bent a script to create a shining tribute to his own genius.  On the page, the movie is a standard “Hero from humble beginnings”, but in the hands of Singh, it becomes lush, outlandish, baffling, and above all, vainglorious.

King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is on a rampage across Greece so he can find a magical bow that will unleash the Titans and bring down the gods.  Hyperion hates the gods because he needs someone to blame for the death of his family, but he also wants to extend his legacy by taking the Attila the Hun route of extending his bloodline and cutting off the bloodlines of others. It’s clearly a half-assed motivation that’s been tacked on to the character’s personality.  Rourke doesn’t care either way since he sleepwalks through the entire movie and treats a mission to bring down the gods with the same enthusiasm as an administrator filing paperwork.


Because they refuse to directly meddle in the lives of mortals, the gods hope that the strong and honorable peasant Theseus (Henry Cavill) will find the bow first and bring down Hyperion.  Zeus (Luke Evans) is perfectly willing to disguise himself as a grandfatherly figure (John Hurt) and mentor Theseus for a decade, but trying to trick Hyperion into falling off a cliff is a task too great for any being.  When Hyperion personally comes down to destroy Theseus’ village of about fifty people, the bored king slaughters Theseus’ mother in front of her son’s eyes and then sentences the young man to a life in the salt mines.  Once there, Theseus meets up with an oracle (Freida Pinto) and a roguish thief (Stephen Dorff), as well as some unnamed characters who clearly are not going to see how this all pans out.  The whole plot is to get Theseus back to Hyperion while the gods twiddle their thumbs and wait for the climatic battle with the titans.

The characters are one-dimensional, the plot is threadbare, but the movie does lay out a very clear thesis statement by opening with the Socrates quote: “All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.”  The story wants us to root for Theseus, a simple-but-goodhearted guy who does the right thing, but Singh couldn’t care whether or not Theseus leads the people to victory or even if he defeats Hyperion.  He cares that Theseus learns to believe in the gods, and that we witness the power of those gods.  Singh doesn’t care about being righteous.  He cares about being divine.

A good director serves the story, but it takes a director like Singh to make the story serve him.  Everyone will walk away from Immortals commenting on the eye-popping visuals and vibrant costumes (which will probably earn costume designer Eiko Ishioka an Oscar nomination).  But most of the art direction and costume designs tell us nothing about the themes and character beyond “Singh sees the world in an unusual way.”  Occasionally, that way is exciting and clever.  It’s a smart point to make the gods youthful and attractive because why wouldn’t they choose to take that form?  Singh’s spin on the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the maze is brilliant and if all of Immortals was as imaginative and thoughtful, the movie would be a smashing success.

Unfortunately, most of it grows from the simple-minded thinking of “Because it looks cool.”  I wondered why Hyperion was so adamant about bringing down the gods or expanding his bloodline when his true passion was clearly the design of ornate masks.  Why does Hyperion’s helmet have bunny ears?  Why did he bedazzle his mask? What does it tell us about the character?  Singh would rather you just admire the craftsman ship and “originality” of his vision, and not care about the why.

Occasionally, Singh gets brilliant.  Almost everything with Theseus is shot in brown colors filled with dirt and grime, and the only outstanding visual flourish is one long take of our hero striking down his enemies as he moves down a hallway.  When it comes to the gods, Singh lets loose.  He delivers one of the best and most cartoony action scenes of the year when the gods finally do battle.  There may as well be a combo meter in the top left corner of the screen when the gods wreak bloody destruction and smash apart the everythings of their enemies.  Even their violence is beautiful, so who cares that their plans are idiotic and that their helmets are distractingly ridiculous?

Immortals deserves credit for trying to breathe life into what would otherwise be a bland and forgettable sword-and-sandals story.  The result is silly and undercooked when it comes to characters and plot, but the movie is fascinating for what it says about its director.  If Tarsem Singh could have gotten away with casting himself as Zeus, he probably would have done it.

Rating: C


  • Tarek

    Let me do the review of this movie in a more simple way: This movie is pure boredom. Mix 300 and Sucker Punch and you get it.

    Will Tarsem Singh be the next Shyamalamalalalan ?

  • Ryan

    Kind of already expected the whole style over substance thing, even though I loved Singh’s The Fall.

    But the aggravating question that permeates my head is, even though an actor can’t be held accountable for the bad dialogue he has to deliver on-screen, is Henry Cavill actually, you know, talented?

    Just asking as a barometer for what to expect, like when I saw that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were ridiculously talented by watching their previous performances.

    • Findley

      What do James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have to do with The Immortals?

      • Angmal

        I’d guess it’s because they played superheroes in X-Men First Class, and Cavill is about to play Superman. He doesn’t know whether Cavill is a decent actor or not yet, so wants to know whether he should start worrying about his performance in Snyder’s forthcoming reboot.

  • maiketa

    this movie is an epic join fail of clash of the titans, saint seiya and 300

  • Talha

    Well i have read other sites review and i find it hard to digest that Matt always on a daily basis disses every good movie. Well its nothing personal but i find tarsem’s Direction quite artistic. Immortals is no different. But Matt sometimes liking someting wont hurt ur stature of being a hard ass critique. swallow your pride a atleast go watch the movie first and i askk all the readers to give the movie a shot, ull like it. Hanry’s acting is good and i see a good actor in the making. Pinto is as useless as always but this movie belongs to Mickey as he portrays rage/revenge/sympathy all at the same time. So plz Matt, just for the record, i love collider. plz stop crowding this place with ur utterly wrong reviews. go buy a ticket and watch a movie for what its worth or go make your own. simple!

    • Wladi

      another angry rourke fan…seems YOU didn’t watch this uber piece of crap…100 % agree with Goldberg review….

    • fravit

      I also have to agree with Matt. This movie is all style and no substance. Artistic vision means nothing if there isn’t a reason behind it. There were some things to like about it, but for the most part the movie was a bore and left me feeling cold and indifferent to pretty much every character. If you can’t make the audience care about your characters, you don’t have a story, period.

      You also mention you’ve read reviews on other sites. Last I checked this movie was in the 30′s on the Tomatometer. So Matt isn’t exactly in the minority here.

    • Christopher S

      I agree that Matt is a little to harsh on movies and I am curious to see if he actually likes movies at all, just one where he doesn’t despise it. However, I thought the movie was visually nice, but pointless, plot-less, and a gross bastardization of Greek mythology. But Rourke did play a great villain, he was one of the only bright spots about the movie, along with Frieda Pinto, who always gives a nice performance but is constantly playing a role that is pointless.

  • Pierce

    Great review, but the movie consistently made me wonder two very important things.

    1: How does a script that bad, relying on like 12 deus ex machina moments, get a $75,000,000 budget? At least Bay’s movies sometimes have clever dialogue.

    2: How does Stephen Dorff still get paid money to be on screen?

    • Alex–

      I assume Singh was paid millions as director and also to keep his hands off the script.

    • Steve m

      Yes and at least bays movie has gritty action with cgi composed into real explosions instead of this green screen super lamo slowmo action, with the most laughable costumes I’ve seen

  • Elijah

    too much torture, but the battle scenes were freakin awesome (yes there’s a difference) and the ending was pretty lame.

  • chris

    but visually, does it beat 300? i was on looking forward to the match between Snyder and Tarsem. i thought Snyder is overrated, even in 300(his biggest success). he had the shot by shot remake of the graphic novel, and yet alot of people praises his vision. and Rodriguez did that first, and much better in Sin City.

  • sense 11

    I enjoyed this movie, I thought about it as a Alternate Superman Universe movie and it works well. Mickey Rourke was awesome, Freido Pinto Nude Scene was really awesome. And Henry Cavill looks like a action figure that has great acting chops.

    Silly plot but its not pretentious like a Michael Bay movie, its more of a bloody over the top spectacle.