I really wanted to like Tarsem Singh’s Immortals. More specifically, I really wanted it to be the higher-brow, sword-and-sandals answer to Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006) or Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian (2011). As someone who prays at the altar of Ken Russell’s fantasticated works, who will defend to the death the sensory overload of The Wachowski Brother’s Speed Racer (2008), and who finds self-indulgence to be a director’s greatest asset, I freely admit that Singh’s film is certainly over-the-top, overwrought and hyper-stylized enough for my tastes. Yet, there’s something missing beneath all of the film’s slick grandeur.
Normally, when films I adore fall into the category of the über-ostentatious—like Immortals does—there’s a sense of playfulness at hand. These filmmakers are making a movie for themselves, and as a result they’re having fun. The problem with Immortals is that there’s little fun being had here. Singh approaches Immortals’ Greek mythology like a horror movie, with the end result coming across like a mix of 300‘s unfortunate machismo, and—oddly enough—Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill (2006), albeit without the atmosphere. Despite the elegance of its cinematography, the film itself is often ugly and frequently grotesque. I can’t shake the feeling that Singh—despite his normal production design and sense of artistry—is making this movie less for himself, and more to impress the world with its gory badassness.
By putting an updated spin on the tale of Theseus—mixing the modern, gritty brand of stylized action with pageant-like costume design—we get a movie that’s too silly to be taken seriously, but to straight-faced to have any charm. Even when Immortals breaks out into scenes with fountains of blood and ultraviolence, the end result is more amusing spectacle than epic storytelling. And as the story progresses, the violence becomes overwhelming and nasty, but also increasingly goofy. It’s a film with surprisingly little heart—particularly when compared to Singh’s last film, The Fall (2006)—with the end result being that Immortals feels like an exquisitely made Michael Bay movie. I don’t necessarily mean the Bay comparison as an insult, but—at the risk of sounding like some old geezer—Immortals is one of the few times I’ve felt mentally overloaded by a film’s frenetics.
Immortals is an exhausting film with little on its mind, and a sole purpose of dazzling the audience into submission. And that’s a pity, because while I admire Singh’s sense of theatricality and marvel at his spurts of genuinely brilliant filmmaking, I’m still left with movie that—behind its polished facade—is completely shallow. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality.