The ”producers of 300” have gotten high billing in ads for Immortals, another swords-and-sandals mini-epic in which men dressed like Hellenic gay pride paraders wrestle and preen and cross swords (in a perfectly hetero-virile way, of course).
But once you’ve spent two hours watching amber waves of abs ripple across the screen, you might think bigger credit really ought to go to the actors’ personal trainers. After all, it’s the size of his pecs — and certainly not his personality — that designates Theseus (Henry Cavill) as this story’s hero. He’s a stonemason from a small village, and his single definable character trait — a hot temper — only serves to move him from one bicep-flexing fight to another with minimal dialogue in between.
The focus of most of his anger is King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, chewing the scenery like a four-course meal), a tyrant out to conquer both the earth and Olympus by dint of a magical bow. Helping Theseus fight him are a sensual oracle (Freida Pinto) and the Olympians themselves, including fiery, brawny Zeus (Luke Evans) and fierier, brawnier Poseidon (Kellan Lutz). The gods of Homer and Virgil these ain’t; Immortals‘ shaved-chest-thumping mythology owes more to Men’s Health than to Bulfinch’s.
Plot machinations ensue, though you won’t much care — or understand, since the dialogue is all muttered in a Babel of pan-U.K. accents to underscore its pointlessness. But what saves Immortals as a moviegoing experience is the exuberant, kid-in-a-candy-store virtuosity of its director, former music-video wunderkind Tarsem Singh (The Cell). He has no apparent love or patience for storytelling, but Singh is a visualist on par with Julie Taymor and Tim Burton. He makes images of such overblown, pop-baroque splendor that the eyes have no choice but to gorge. Every landscape is a canvas for cartoon-crazy architecture, every body a mannequin for inhuman costumes, every battle blow a candidate for slo-mo glory. Without any narrative heft, these sights don’t last in the mind much longer than they linger on screen. And yet they thrill in short-lived bursts that Singh doles out carefully, keeping pace with the audience’s appetite. It’s his name that ought to be above the title. B