I like Greek mythology, and I like movies, but for some reason, I’m not usually a big fan of Greek mythology movies.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the exception.
Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is an unhappy sort of fellow, looking to conquer the world and destroy the gods and otherwise commit all sorts of villainous acts. To better accomplish this, he wants to unleash the Titans, and to unleash the Titans, he needs to find the Epirus Bow. Can anyone stop him? Well, a peasant named
Superman Theseus (Henry Cavill) is going to try.
1. A brief disclaimer: as anyone who regularly reads this blog can attest to, objectivity is not one of my primary focuses in any given review. I like to think I can give a relatively balanced assessment when needed, but if there’s something about a movie that just bothers me . . . well, I’m not going to ignore it simply because I’m worried about being—depending on the nature of the problem—either obtuse or ridiculously hypercritical. So, with that in mind . . .
I have some basic problems with how Tarsem Singh distorts Greek mythology in this movie. I was not anticipating having these problems—I am, by no means, an expert in the field, and prior to seeing this film, my knowledge of Theseus was vague at best—but regardless, I took issue with certain elements of the movie, and I’m still trying to decide how much they affected my experience on the whole.
2. Before we get into all that, though, let’s talk about some positives: the visuals.
Tarsem Singh can make an exquisitely beautiful movie. There’s certainly no doubting that. Like The Cell, Immortals is chock-full of dark, violent, and absolutely gorgeous imagery. This is more than just eye-candy, folks. This is, like, an eye-ice-cream-sundae. This is, like, the eye-Vermonster.
I really can’t say enough about how awesome this movie looks. And man, is it violent. I would absolutely love Tarsem Singh to keep directing violent fantasies. I just, you know, want a better story to go along with the next one.
3. Cause, look, I’m not a moron. I wasn’t expecting a ton of plot and character development going into this movie, and guess what? There wasn’t any. And that’s okay sometimes, really. Sure, Theseus has no defining character traits other than a hot temper and being a total momma’s boy, but Henry Cavill does the best he can with the material, and he’s pretty to look at it, so . . . fine. Some days, I’m easily sated. And yeah, Hyperion isn’t the most complex villain I’ve ever seen on the screen, but Mickey Rourke’s very enjoyable as he muses about the dependability of traitors and decapitates the idiots who stand in his way, and I’m all good with that. I really was looking forward to some sheer, unapologetic, mindless violence.
But . . . it’s almost like the tone’s off, like the movie takes itself just a bit too seriously. Usually, when I get done watching an action movie in theater, I’m all pumped up and excited and ready for a fight. (Thankfully, for all those unsuspecting people just walking around, minding their own business, I have neither the physique nor the impulse control problems necessary in order to just beat the shit out of random strangers.)
But after watching Immortals, I didn’t have an adrenaline rush at all. For a gung-ho, let’s-kick-some-ass action movie . . . it’s not really that fun. Some of the scenes are breathtakingly violent, yes, but there’s no ROWR moment, you know? It’s not awesome enough for a silly movie, and it’s not nearly good enough for a serious one.
4. Also, why is the dragon from Merlin narrating this film?
5. Some of the not-so-important to kind-of-important deviations from Greek mythology:
A. Well, almost anything to do with Theseus, of course. I actually did like how they worked the Minotaur in, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with their version of the labyrinth.
B. Pretty sure Phaedra wasn’t actually an Oracle. And amusingly, while Phaedra was Theseus’s wife (his second wife, at least), she also supposedly had the hots for his son? Heh. That wasn’t in the movie.
C. More importantly, why aren’t the Titans tall? They’re the Titans. I mean, I guess they don’t have to be giants or anything, but shouldn’t they look more . . . I don’t know, threatening?
I’m not saying these guys couldn’t kick my ass or anything, but really, that’s not all that hard. These are supposed to be the dudes who will, like, destroy the entire world. I think they could be a bit more imposing, that’s all.
D. Apparently, Hyperion is actually a Titan himself in Greek mythology? Whoops.
E. Finally, there is only one goddess in this movie, apparently. Her name is Athena, and she is a pretty, blonde slip of a woman.
Of course, Athena is supposed to be a goddess of many things, including wisdom and, you know, war. Was it so much to hope that I’d get a badass with an actual personality? Apparently so. She’s not so terrible, exactly, she’s just so . . . blah. (This still beats out Disney’s Hercules, though. Every time I see Hera as a loving, doting wife, I just burst out into giggles.)
6. Actually, Athena’s not the only one. None of the gods really get much in the way of a personality. Zeus has the most to do, I guess, but I can’t discuss him too much outside of the Spoiler Section, other than to say that, one, he’s played by Luke Evans and, two, he’s kind of a benevolent asshole. Seriously, this is not the Zeus I’d want watching out for my future, that’s all I’m saying.
As for the other Olympians, well, Athena is mostly there to look pretty, and the other gods barely even get names. Poseidon’s mostly recognizable by his trident. Another god might be Ares . . . or maybe Apollo? I’m honestly not sure.
7. My big problem, though, doesn’t have anything to do with who was the god of what, or how bland Athena was. I mean, I don’t exactly like any of that, of course, but my real problem has to do with forcing modern religious concepts onto Greek mythology.
One of the big questions we always ask when something tragic happens: why didn’t God intervene? If I believe in God, and I live a good life, and I do everything God asks of me, why didn’t God save this person I love or stop that thing from happening or keep me safe from harm? I mean, it’s a pretty basic theological question. You find it in all kinds of religious texts and various mythologies. The most obvious example I can think of is the Book of Job, but I’m sure there are plenty of others.
The thing is, though, that this question? Yeah, it’s absolutely not a deal in Greek mythology, because Greek mythology isn’t about an omniscient God who watches from on high and rarely-to-never directly intervenes with the day-to-day lives of ordinary humans. Greek mythology is all about fucking with the day-to-day lives of ordinary humans. One day, Zeus is screwing young women and transforming them into barnyard animals to hide them from his violently jealous wife. Another day, Aphrodite’s kickstarting the Trojan War just so she can win a godamned beauty contest.
In Immortals, the Greek gods don’t do shit to help their human subjects during Hyperion’s reign of terror. Not because they don’t want to, mind you, but because Zeus says they’re sworn not to for . . . some reason. I don’t know. All the writers really needed to do was give some bullshit excuse about how the whole universe would have literally collapsed if the gods interfered with mortal men, and maybe, maybe I could have been on board with it, despite the fact that it’s so not ancient Greek. Instead, Zeus mutters some nonsense about “How are humans supposed to have faith in the Gods if the Gods don’t have faith in them?” and that’s just the most bullshit thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s not quite like a father who refuses to give his struggling adult son money because he wants the kid to learn responsibility. It’s more like a father who watches his adult son gets his head chopped off by a tyrannical madman because he really believes that little tyke can persevere!
The whole idea is just poorly conceived, and it’s actual execution in the film is even worse. I think we’re supposed to have some kind of sympathy for Zeus and the struggle he’s going through, watching his people get slaughtered. In actuality, Zeus kind of comes off as a dick, and that will be discussed even further in the Spoiler Section.
8. Also, just too many people suffer from a lack of faith in this movie. I mean, there’s having a theme, and then there’s just being repetitive. Drawing similarities between your hero and villain is fine, but when the sidekick and the random idiotic leaders also talk about not having their prayers answered . . . it’s all just a little much.
9. On the upside, I did like the sidekick quite a bit.
This is Stavros, played by Stephen Dorff, and while you probably can’t tell from the picture above, he is the lovable scoundrel character who’s only interested in saving his own skin (but will, inevitably, get roped into the bigger picture, anyway). Dorff’s a lot of fun here and is pretty much the only comic relief in this whole movie. He is sorely needed.
10. Other side characters, however, are set up as important (or at least potentially interesting) and then promptly get dropped like a hot potato. There’s a traitor character who seems like he should have a backstory or a personality or at least an epic fight scene with the hero, and . . . well, he doesn’t. Not any of it. There’s this soldier guy who you think’s going to do at least something relevant in the whole story, and . . . nope, not once, not even close. And then, of course, there all those Gods hanging around who are just sort of there to exist. Not every side character needs to be significant, I know, but it’d be nice if a few of these guys were actually given something to do.
11. And then some side characters are just morons. This isn’t a complaint against the movie, mind. I’m just pointing it out. Total MORONS. There’s this one guy whose prophecy at birth must have only been two words: Darwin Award. And, of course, there’s the lovely Phaedra:
Phaedra is played by Freida Pinto, and she’s completely serviceable enough as Theseus’s love interest. In fact, for the first hour of the film, there’s nothing too horrible about Phaedra’s character, either. Then, she makes a Decision.
I, unfortunately, can’t tell you about the Decision without spoilers, but what I can say is that Phaedra deserves to, if not die, then at least get slapped in the face a few times with a big, smelly, dead fish.
12. There is a brazen bull in this movie. Yay for bizarre synchronicity! Unlike in Red Riding Hood, however, this brazen bull is actually bull shaped. Go figure.
13. Finally, Theseus’s fight for glory speech? Bullshit. For starters, this isn’t even his army! Where the hell are the real commanders? It’s not like they don’t exist. We’ve been introduced to one of the them! Did the guy go for a tinkle break during this pivotal moment? Is that what’s happening here?
Secondly, Theseus’s speech just kind of sucks. The whole thing feels so thrown in, so “Oh, whoops, we forgot to write a speech before the big battle, didn’t we? Oh, fuck it, I’m too drunk to worry about it right now. Just scratch out a few sentences, okay? We’ll have the soldier guys slap their shields with their swords, some triumphant music, and it’ll all be gravy.”
In fact, it was not all gravy. And I am saddened by this.
If you’d like to find out more about Phaedra’s idiotic decision, or just how big of an asshole Zeus is, follow below . . .
Okay, so the Olympians aren’t supposed to interfere with the mortals, right? Well, Zeus is just a giant hypocrite, and totally interferes . . . only indirectly, see, so he gets away with it. He disguises himself as old John Hurt and teaches Theseus all about fighting and bravery and whatnot, secretly shaping Theseus to be this big hero guy who will save mankind. I’m guessing he’s looked into Theseus’s soul, or something, and found him particularly worthy? He doesn’t seem too worried about sharing the influence around to other humans, of course. Just Theseus. He’s the only one who really counts.
So, Theseus grows up to be brave and strong, but he’s got a giant chip on his shoulder because everyone’s mean to his momma. When Hyperion later kills his momma, well, it’s war, baby.
Theseus is taken into slavery, but soon busts out with Phaedra, Stavros, and other, less important slaves who are killed off in quick succession. Hyperion wants Phaedra to use her Oracle powers to show him where the Epirus bow is, but Phaedra manages to guide Theseus to it instead. Phaedra also manages to use her awesome Oracle powers to save everyone from Poseidon. (Poseidon’s actually trying to save them, see, by drowning the bad guys who are about to kill them. Thing is, he’s a bit short-sighted about the whole “heroes can drown, too” bit, and if Phaedra hadn’t had that warning vision in time, well. Zeus might have regretted that whole “all your eggs in one Theseus” thing.)
So, it’s a pretty good thing that our underdog heroes have a seeress on their side, right? Well, sure, until Phaedra decides that her gift is a curse, and that she’s in love with Theseus, and that she wants to see the world with her own eyes and, more importantly, get jiggy with it. See, Phaedra’s only an Oracle as long as she stays pure and chaste. So, what does Phaedra decide to do? If you said, “Hop an injured Theseus and ride him like a pogo stick,” well, you’d be correct.
And . . . look, you dumb bitch. You don’t want to see the future anymore? Fine, I get that. I bet seeing the future isn’t all avoiding typhoons and buying winning lottery tickets. I can empathize with this. But maybe you could sacrifice your life-saving powers AFTER the war’s been won, you know? Your sisters DIED in a brazen bull just so YOU could escape. The best way to honor their memory might not be the the horizontal bop with a Greek hero.
Phaedra, I want you to know, even though Artemis isn’t in this movie? She is still very, very disappointed in you.
Anyway. Zeus doesn’t catch on to Poseidon’s interference. Unfortunately, he does catch on when Athena and . . . Ares? Let’s just go with Ares . . . save Theseus and the gang from a squadron of Hyperion’s men. Admittedly, Ares is a little more spectacular about the way he disobeys Zeus (and I think this might have actually been the most badass moment in the whole movie), but Athena is just as complicit in their treason. Nevertheless, Zeus only kills Ares for his disobedience. Athena, he just kind of glares at. Did I mention Zeus was a hypocrite?
Seriously, I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for Zeus—he clearly doesn’t want to kill Ares—but I can’t get past the fact that I don’t buy into this whole non-interference thing in the first place. Why can’t they interfere again? Seriously, I don’t understand the reason at all. And while I’d like to congratulate Zeus for being a bit of badass and actually going through with his threat—Ares clearly wasn’t expecting that kind of punishment, no matter what Zeus might have inferred—the fact that he interferes himself with Theseus’s life and fails to kill Athena . . . yeah, Zeus is kind of an asshole, and I’m not really on his side at all.
So, whose side am I on? Stavros, naturally.
He’s my favorite character. Do my favorite characters typically have a good survival rate?
Hyperion manages to get the Epirus bow back from Theseus—I’m not going into all that right now—and uses it to unleash the Titans. The Greek Gods can only interfere once the Titans have been unleashed (again, for no apparent reason other than Zeus Said So) and they do . . . just not in time to stop the Titans from smashing the shit out of Stavros’s body. Seriously, I think he’s soup by the time they’re done with him. Dammit.
The Olympians and the Titans battle in one place, while Theseus and Hyperion battle somewhere else. (Other people are battling too, but nobody really cares about them. The soldier guy I mentioned earlier is killed offscreen, I think, and the traitor guy, Lysander, gets impaled almost instantly, like, why did they even bother keeping his character around after the first fifteen minutes if he’s that insignificant.)
Theseus and Hyperion kill each other. Zeus kills a shitload of Titans, but alas, Athena is killed too. Other, nameless gods are also killed, but no one cares about them, either. Zeus gathers Athena’s body and shoots back up to Mount Olympus. To do this, he brings the whole cavern down on the Titans’ collective heads. And . . . seriously? Couldn’t he have just done that before Athena and the other gods got hacked apart? Asshat.
Dead Theseus also gets to go to Mount Olympus. Yay? Well, maybe. Years pass, and we see that Phaedra has given birth to Theseus’s son, Acamas. Young Acamas has visions, just like his mommy did. (I wonder if the whole sex-kills-psychic-powers thing affects both genders equally? Maybe we’ll see in the sequel. He’s too young for that right now.) John Hurt shows up, of course, and tells Acamas not to be afraid of his visions. Acamas sees another war where the Gods (plus Theseus) are fighting the Titans in the sky. John Hurt tells Acamas that his time for war and glory will come. And . . . FIN.
And again. . . seriously? All of that, and the Titans are still fighting the Gods? Really? What the hell did I even watch this for, anyway?
Visually arresting movie. Seriously, can’t stress that enough. Some fun action scenes, easy enough to watch, but not enough awesome moments. Poor writing. Serious lack of character development. Silly distortions of Greek mythology.
Stephen Dorff. I’d probably give it to Mickey Rourke, but Dorff’s pretty enjoyable here too, and this movie desperately needs all the comic relief that it can get.
The gods want you to help yourself.
Also, unless you’re Athena, don’t fuck with Zeus. He will fucking KILL YOU.