Sunday, January 8, 2012

Greece Is The Word

In his transition to conservative, the great Frank Miller penned a comic book called 300, based on the story of the Spartan's stand at Thermopylae. It was a romantic retelling, but well researched, and true to the cultural spirit of the story. When Zack Snyder gussied it up for the big screen, he made it more comic book-y (ironically, I guess) by adding some monsters here and there.

The new movie Immortals, which follows in this tradition spits in the eye of 300 and kicks Greek mythology in the 'nads for good measure.

Which, frankly, I expected.

And yet, I was retroactively disappointed when the credits rolled and Tarsem Singh's name appeared as directory. Singh's two previous credits were the J. Lo vehicle The Cell and the under-rated The Fall. If I had expected the level of imagery in those movies here, I would've been utterly deflated. The imagery here is fairly standard CGI-superhero fare, with the exception of a lot more cool gore effects.

This does not a movie make.

This barely rises to the level of a movie, too, which is typical of a Tarsem flick. There's a real poetry to his earlier works, and this allows one to overlook, for example, that the actual plot of The Cell is about five minutes long, and the whole "entering a killer's mind" premise is completely superfluous.

The same is true here, minus the poetry. In the opening scene, we learn that...uh...crap...I've forgotten. It's a retelling of the story of Kronos and the Titans versus Zeus and the Olympians. These are the titular immortals. Except that we learn in the first few seconds of the film that they discovered a way to kill each other.

The first rule of immortals is: there aren't any immortals.

Anyway, this leads to a war (though it seems like it should be the other way around, with a war leading to discovery of mortality) and the gods lock up the titans in 10x10x10 cubicle. (These are decidedly non-titanic titans.) And the only thing that can set them free is a magical bow.

The thing that makes this bow magical, I think, is that it's the only bow in all of Greece. Seriously. There's a big battle scene. There's a siege. But nobody has a bow, except for the guy with the magic bow. Which, by the way, looks like something out of Diablo.

So the plot is that Mickey Rourke—who is back to being sleazy and unappealing after a brief hiatus—plays the conquering Hyperion (who in the actual mythology, all we know of is that he was a Titan) whose big plan is to—well, he's got two plans. The first is to rape all of the known world, a la Genghis Khan. The second is to find the magic bow of Epirus (who, in actual mythology was a mortal girl who died young and relatively uneventfully) and use it to travel to Tartarus (a city/mountain and the place with the titan-cube).

Tartarus seems to be the closest thing this movie makes to a hit to actual Greek mythology. Some Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus, but it was considered to be a place in the underworld.

OK, so, shutting off the part of the brain that knows anything about Greek mythology about five minutes into it, we're left with a bunch of incoherent plot lines and unsupported character backstory.

Like, the fact that Rourke's two evil plans contradict each other. He releases the titans, they destroy the world: So much for all the raping he wants to do. (He never talks about ruling the world or looting or pillaging. He's all about the rape.)

There's a kind of Star Trek-style prime directive going on with the gods: According to Zeus, the law is that no god may interfere directly with mortals as a god (biting tongue) even though he's apparently been going down in the form of John Hurt to raise the atheistic hero of our piece. That's not "as a god" so, loophole!

Now, this could make sense as a dramatic device, right? Just like in "Star Trek," it could prevent deus ex machina type escapes and keep the tension high. If the audience knows that the gods can intervene at any time, after all—just stop right there, buster. This movie completely depends on deus ex machina.

Actually, not just deus ex machina but villain ex machina. The villain manages to have henchmen everywhere. Including, at one point, an artifact fetching jackal/hyena/dog thing. Who happens to be right where the artifact is. Even though the villain had already left that spot. And the movie goes through great pains to make sure we know the villain doesn't know where the artifact is.

Truly, the hero's actions are completely irrelevant, or possibly negative. There's really nothing heroic about him. He fights good, I guess. And he's good to his mom. He's less offensive than the other characters, so he's got that going for him. He also has some casual sex that would seem pretty reckless in terms of the whole saving-the-world thing (avoiding spoilers).

The Greece of this movie is populated with atheists, true believers, apostates and pragmatists. The hero is an atheist (up to the point where Zeus actually spanks him), the villain is an apostate, most of the rank-and-file seem to be believers, but the residents of Tartarus are more pragmatic. But everyone's chief gripe about the gods is that they don't get involved, and the difference between the villain and the hero is that the hero chooses to believe that means there are no gods while the villain decides it means there ARE gods and they hate him, and so therefore deserve to die (along with the rest of existence).

Good lord, in the beginning of the movie, a well-meaning cleric tells Rourke that he only need ask for forgiveness to set all right with the gods. (You know, 'cause what's the difference between the Greek gods and Jesus?) Of course, the Greek gods would've struck the villain dead for defiling the temple—that's what they did—but setting that aside, there's no space in even the movie-created theology for forgiveness, or much of anything other than a blind partisanship.

The relationship between the gods and mortals seems to be trivial, at best, and inverted at worst, with Zeus emphatically assuring the hero that he (Zeus) believes in him (Theseus).

Weirdly, in the first few minutes of the movie, the narration tells us that the titans were "called" evil because they lost the war of the heavens. We're never given any idea of the gods as being good, or frankly being of much interest whatsoever.

The gods, by the way, look like a campy re-enactment of The War Against The Titans done at Ceasar's Palace. "How will anyone be able to tell the gods apart? They're all unshaven brunette 30-year-old men wearing togas." "I know, let's put 'em in goofy hats!"

It's a greatly reduced pantheon, by the way: Zeus, Athena (who seem to be leering at each other while expositing on how they're father and daughter), Ares, Helios and Poseidon are, I think, all we see. Though maybe Apollo pops in at the end.

Aw, hell, I've already given more thought to this movie's theology than anyone actually making the movie did.

Immortals manages to offend on nearly every other level as well, though. For example, Tartarus is a walled city. Wait, did I say "walled city"? I meant to say it's behind freaking Hoover Dam. They have the technology to build a wall that's a thousand feet high, but they have no means to defend it whatsoever. No bows. No boiling oil. No nothing. Just a wall.

And when The Only Bow In Creation blows through the front of the gate like a bazooka, the villain never ever fires it again in battle. (The Bow is problematic in terms of how much force it can deal. Apparently the answer is "how much do you need?")

It's kind of insulting.

Also, they know where the villain is headed: To free the titans. Post guards? Why no, why would you? The thing there is, the villain could easily have dispatched them (magic bow, remember?), so why not even put out the effort to show us that our putative good guys are kind of thinking?

Some guy named Henry Cavill plays some dude named Theseus. Stephen Dorff plays a lovable rogue who breaks character at the first convenient plot point. Frieda Pinto, as Indian looking a woman as you can ever imagine, plays the Oracle, and has a spectacular body double for her nude scene (which screams body double). Luke Evans, fresh from playing Apollo in Clash of the Titans, plays Zeus-with-a-five-o-clock shadow here. The other hottie is Isabel Lucas, playing Athena.

I have no opinions about any of these people based on this movie. I've liked Stephen Dorff since he was a kid in that goofy demon-summoning movie The Gate. But really, none of them are particularly relevant. This isn't a movie about characters. Or plot. Or continuity. Coherence.

The music is heroic.

I would've gone to see this, on the strength of Tarsem's name. He's doing one of the three Snow White rehashes next year (his is Mirror, Mirror and the other two are Snow White and the Huntsmen and—hmm, maybe there's only two) and I won't be lining up to see it.

P.S. Ares actually throws a hammer in this flick. A hammer.


  1. P.S. Ares actually throws a hammer in this flick. A hammer.

    Hammer Films or Hammer of the Gods?

  2. I even quoted you on on my blog yesterday and gave you your own tag. I don't know how much less discrete I can get.

  3. You quoted me quoting Durant?


    The actual quote is "A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean."


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