Sword and sandal epics have been the flavour of the last few years with decidedly mixed results. The last attempt at anything with a supernatural element resulted in the tangled mess of Clash Of The Titans (where all the horses had eight legs and men stood next to their own beards) with meatier fare being somewhat absent of late.
Immortals is the latest attempt at a decent Greek Myth spectacular and centres on Theseus (Henry Cavill), a strapping young peasant lad conveniently schooled in the arts of warfare by a mysterious old man (John Hurt) who turns out to be the god Zeus in disguise.
Zeus is forbidden from interfering directly in human affairs and so must use mortals to shape the fate of the world. War is coming, brought forth by the vengeful King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who seeks the Epirus bow – a magic longbow with which he plans to release the Titan imprisoned under Mount Tartarus.
Together with a thief (Stephen Dorff) and a virgin oracle (Freida Pinto), Theseus sets off to find the Epirus bow before Hyperion can get his grubby mitts on it.
Tarsem Singh is a director with a flair for visual spectacle (The Fall) and the costume design is inspired ranging from the bizarre (Hyperion’s lobster helmet) to the sublime (the oracle and her sisters’ coordinated robes) and large CGI set pieces will raise eyebrows. Unfortunately it’s shot in the same sepia filmed-through-a-teabag colour palette which seems to be a prerequisite for any sword and sandals adventure.
Singh has poured most of his efforts into making something that looks impressive, but has neglected basic things like storytelling and character and there are large boring tranches where nothing happens. Add to this a good liberal sprinkling of plot holes and Immortals starts to fall apart.
Henry Cavill tries his best to inject some personality into a familiar character trope but Theseus is about as dull as you can get. In many ways it’s the perfect set up for Cavill’s forthcoming role as Superman (the world’s dullest superhero). John Hurt potters about in the background mumbling the odd clichéd line about responsibility and duty (he’s Immortals’ Uncle Ben to Cavill’s Spiderman) and Mickey Rourke is stuck on scowl as the gruff hulk Hyperion.
The gods are even less inspiring. How seriously can you take a man clad in tacky gold armour? No one said that the gods were tasteful but they look like the crashed into an Argos catalogue. Of the Olympians Luke Evans’s Zeus is far the best – he’s the only one with a discernible character. The others are anatomically perfect but have no gravitas; forgettable shop window dummies with no dramatic weight.
The violence is actually pleasingly brutal – faces are raked with bloody talons, ears are sliced off at will and a particularly leg-crossing scene has someone get hit in the goolies with a sledgehammer. It recalls the supreme ultra-violence of Ironclad moderated by 300’s more stylistic elements but disappointingly, these battles become derivative and Tarsem Singh is unable to squeeze anything new from the CGI-inflected rumbles in tight spaces.