Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Immortals (2011) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: refreshing new portrayal of greek gods, hearkens back to classic greek myth epics, hints at deeper themes exploring the concept of immortality, stylish action sequences, beautiful production design

The Bad: deviates from the traditional Theseus myth, slow moving first act, minimal character development, falls into typical trappings of a shallow action blockbuster.

Current Availability Status: in cinemas 17 november 2011

What is Immortality? That is the question this movie "Immortals" seemingly sets out to explore from the film's opening quote about a man's immortal soul. Does one have to be a god to be immortal? Or can he live forever in the legacy he leaves behind? And with regards to that legacy, is the immortality gained from legacy of descendants any different from a legacy of great deeds kept alive through old tales? There is a gold mine of deep concepts and possible philosophical questions, both rare in today's high octane low brain blockbuster movie market. In that aspect, Immortals might seem a bit of a cop out; avoiding the interesting questions to thread familiar ground. Which is a huge pity since everything else about this movie had the potential to be something new and unique.

For starters, it is a unique take on the old Greek Myth of Theseus. Greek Mythology purists be warned, this is not faithful to the legends in any way except in name. This Theseus is a strong but skeptical young man who scoffs at the old tales of Gods and Titans. His peaceful life in his small cliffside town is one day shattered with the arrival of King Hyperion and his army. The king is seeking the legendary Epirius bow, hoping to free the Titans as vengeance against the Gods. As a captive, Theseus meets the thief Stravos and the beautiful oracle Phaedra who convinces him of the truth behind the old legends. After a daring escape, Theseus and his companions embark on a quest to stop Hyperion before he brings about the fall of man and god.

Immortals excels in how gives a new perspective to the mythologies we all know. For example, the Greek deities are merely people who can live forever and have special powers. Immortal magicians if you will. They are not "Gods" in the omnipotent sense. And rather than have them as aged beings in regal robes or a warrior race in elaborate armor, these gods are portrayed as lithe, beautiful and young; barely out of their 20s and dressed scantily in tiny gold loincloths. Similarly, mount Olympus is no heaven on a mythical mountain surrounded by clouds, merely a palace on a very high cliff overlooking the sea.

In the characters themselves arise more potential for such questions.
We see the concept of "Gods" being played around with, same with the concept of immortality. If Theseus, like the Gods, is remembered for superhuman deeds he performed, does that make you him god? You have Phaedra, the oracle who sees the future. Can one who knows the will of fate change fate? You have king Hyperion who's very act of castrating every male defector and killing all captive pregnant women brings us back to the very first question about immortality and leaving a legacy.

But alas these questions, philosophical or otherwise, are merely hinted at; touched upon like Socrates' quotes which bookend the movie. It is a fantasy action blockbuster after all. So out with the brains and in with the blood. Although the characters are pretty much one dimensional, the acting is spot on and the story picks up well after the slower first act.

The movie is very beautiful to look at from a production standpoint. Unlike the producers' previous greek legend film, 300, mostly physical sets are used here with CGI shots and backgrounds blended seamlessly. It seems intentional that the way physical foregrounds and CGI backgrounds merge mimic how a soundstage set would merge with a matte painting background in older greek myth movies. In fact story's pacing, the gritty yet stylised designs and the way the dialogue is written seem to be a homage to old fantasy epics like "Jason and the Argonauts".

Once again, instead of being truly unique, Immortals manages to only look fresh but feel like the same old thing that we are used to. It is definitely much more enjoyable than 2010's "Clash of the Titans" but lacks the energy and style of "300". Perhaps a long running time would have allowed the plot to breathe, the characters to develop a little and for the film to have a larger sense of scale. What could have been the most unique greek mythology movie is reduced to just another fun blockbuster.

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Go For it: if you'd like a fresh new take on old myths that raises some deep questions. Or if you liked the classic fantasy adventure movies like Jason and the Argonauts.
Avoid it: if you're a greek mythology purist or never liked the "swords and sandals" movie genre in the first place

Entertainment: B+
Story: B+
Acting: A-
Characters: B
Music: C+
Replay value: B
"Brains": B-

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