- Henry Cavill
The older the book, the less Hollywood knows what to do with it. Take myths and religion, some of the world's great source material. Aside from "The Ten Commandments," how many great Bible movies are there (even if "Ben-Hur" qualifies)? And when it comes to the epic body of work left by the likes of Homer, Virgil and other ancient Greek scribes, what have we got to watch? "Jason and the Argonauts," best remembered for stop-motion skeleton fights, and "Troy," with Brad Pitt doing a decent Achilles pout. A junkie's dependence on special effects doesn't help the genre, and if it's hard to take a man in shorts seriously, tunics are positively debasing.
Still, there's no excuse for the legacy of mediocrity that "Immortals," just released, joins with all-too-familiar dumb aplomb. This CGI-saturated update to the swords-and-sandals epics of yore trots out the Greeks' ol' Minotaur-slayer, Theseus, played by the aggressively handsome Henry Cavill. Across from him, as perhaps the most seductive feature of "Immortals," is Mickey Rourke as a king with the temerity and the ferocity to challenge the gods. Rourke is at ease as Hyperion, savage of temper and of physicality, who thumbs out people's eyeballs and who dreams of strewing his offspring across the world, such that the sun never sets on his blood. This is his version of immortality, and considering how many gods and titans get whacked by the film's end, there's something to be said for his approach.
Immortality apparently isn't what it used to be, nor is Greek mythology. The epic battles of the Greek classics were fraught with godly interference; "The Iliad" reads like an account of a grand human dogfight loosely refereed by Athena, Poseidon and Apollo, all of whom Zeus (30ish Luke Evans) tells in "Immortals" to refrain from tampering in the affairs of the humans. If anything, the ancient Greeks preferred their gods far more petty, sex-crazed, jealous and, well, human than the virtuous, gold lame-clad Olympian SWAT team of cologne models that "Immortals" imagines. In the plus column: cool dissolves, a gutturally brassy score, adequate acting and an evocative color palette by director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell"). In the minus column: all the stuff that happens.
Clay pots have been known to carry more story than "Immortals." Basically there was a big fight. The gods won and imprisoned the losers, a caste of lesser immortals called Titans, in a cubic foosball table in the bottom of a mountain. Now Hyperion, who hates/defies the gods, is taking over the Hellenic world and wants a powerful bow lost in that battle to help him do so. He tries to get an oracle (Freida Pinto, of "Slumdog Millionaire" renown) to find it. But she escapes from his minions with the help of a couple of other prisoners, including our man Theseus, who was himself captured when Hyperion sacked his village. Later, there's another big battle involving Hyperion, Theseus, the gods and the Titans.
The slightly shorter version is, bad guys fight good guys for the fate of the world. Somewhere, on the other side of the River Styx, Homer and Hesiod facepalm.
In the old Greek myths, men were ambivalent creatures, never monsters (the actual monsters were plenty monstrous). The maiming, torturing, power-drunk Hyperion displays all the nuance of castration by sledgehammer (spoiler: this happens in the movie). And Theseus, likeable enough, possesses all the moral ambiguity of a video game hero when you, the audience, hold the controller. "Immortals" requires nothing of us to decide to cheer on Theseus, just as it requires nothing of us to loathe Hyperion. Far from an Achilles or a Hector, no man in this story is in conflict with himself, and as a result this allegedly 3-D enterprise is dull chintz. Its characters will suffer the grimmest of fates, as they perceive it: Far from living forever, they, like the movie they so dimly inhabit, will all soon be forgotten.