Tuesday 13 March 2012

Theseus war

Like it or not, 300 changed everything.* After hubris and audience fatigue had caused the ancient epic of the early 2000s to collapse, Zack Snyder's 2007 debut transformed the sword-and-sandal film into its present form. The subgenre of hyper-masculine, deliberately artificial-looking mid-budget pictures is still not dead, despite the fact that it has yet to produce an actual good film apart from its progenitor.

Immortals, alas, isn't the yearned-for exception to the rule. Whatever the intentions of the people behind it, the finished product is a rip-off of 300 by way of Clash of the Titans. Whatever other merits 300, a film I liked, might claim, it was hardly the womb of ideas; and if you're copying a remake, well... Suffice it to say that Immortals follows previous sword-and-sandal films so slavishly that it ends up with no identity of its own to speak of.

Anyway, the film is the story of Theseus (Henry Cavill), though considering the indifference with which the script treats Greek mythology I don't know why they bothered. Theseus is raised in a nameless village by his mother (Anne Day-Jones) and High Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt). When the evil king Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) sends out his armies in search of the fabled Epirus Bow, Theseus is enslaved, but he soon escapes with a ragtag bunch of misfits including the thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto).

Meanwhile the Olympians, led by Zeus (Luke Evans, who played Apollo in Clash of the Titans), fear that Hyperion may use the Epirus Bow to release the imprisoned Titans, but will not interfere with the affairs of mankind. Theseus finds the bow in a rock, and they take the weapon to Mount (!) Tartarus, where a Hellenic army has gathered to protect the Titans' prison from Hyperion's fanatical hordes. Along the way, they of course manage to lose the bow to Hyperion, setting the scene for an ugly showdown.

The script is quite simply boring as hell, and no-one could blame the actors for failing to breathe any life into it. Considering they use a literal deus ex machina more than once when the heroes find themselves in a pickle, writers Charley and and Vlas Parlapanides were presumably not taking their job too seriously. The story is padded to twice the necessary length, while still being something of a skeleton to hang an actual plot on: there isn't the slightest suggestion of geography or ethnography, real or fictional. One presumes the film is set in some fictionalised version of a country the script refers to as 'Hellenes', presumably because 'Greece' is too vulgar and 'Hellas' is too correct. The one good idea - the fight against the Minotaur, who is a large, brutish human wearing a wire bull's mask here - seems shoehorned in and is lost in a sea of awfulness.

The visuals don't help at all. Sure, the film's notion of Olympus - here, a darkish set populated by gods wearing silly hats - is better than the tinfoil-and-eyeliner extravaganza Clash of the Titans tried to sell us. Director Tarsem Singh conjures up some striking images, but it's all thoroughly ruined by the colour scheme, the very same mix of dark brown and gold with occasional dashes of colour that 300 should by all rights have killed off. That a very narrow aesthetic should dominate a subgenre would be merely irritating; but it really undoes Immortals, for what better way to declare yourself a 300 clone than to ape every detail of that film's look? Let's hope the upcoming Wrath of the Titans at last puts a stake through the heart of the sword-and-sandal film so that one day there'll be worthwhile films about the ancient world.

*Pathfinder, released a month after 300, may be safely ignored, since unlike the Spartan massacre it sank like a stone at the box office.

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