Nobody was more excited than I to hear that Tarsem Singh was directing a new movie based on Greek mythology. (He directed one of my favorite movies of the last decade, the rapturously gorgeous The Fall.) And nobody could be more appalled than I am at the result, Immortals, a grueling endurance test of blood, gore, murder, warmongering, torture, and more blood. Hey, I like a good, cheesy sword ‘n’ sandal epic as well as anybody, but in order to woo the Xbox generation, the idea here seems to be to depict every encounter of metal and flesh in unflinching detail. For a visual stylist like Tarsem, that means plotting the trajectory of every geyser and globule of splattering blood, and every severed fragment of anatomy as it fits into the grand composition
Scriptwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides adulterate several myths for their mostly invented story of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant bastard who joins the fight against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a brutal warlord on a mission to destroy the Olympian gods he thinks abandoned him; he seeks the legendary Epirus Bow to release the immortal Titans—the only beings capable of killing the gods—from their prison in Mt. Tartaros. Since childhood, Theseus has been coached in warfare by an old man (John Hurt) who is really the disguised god, Zeus (Luke Evans, who looks terrific, although a bit young to play the father of the gods). Briefly enslaved by Hyperion, Theseus escapes with “Virgin Oracle” Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) to fight his way to the top in the opposing army, whose wussy leader’s attempts to negotiate for peace are disastrous. The visuals are splendid: the robes and golden headdresses of the gods, the scarlet gowns and minaret headpieces of the oracle sisters, entire villages carved out of sheer seaside cliffs, warrior helmets fletched with metallic feathers, or toothed in front like the pod of a Venus-flytrap. (The minotaur Theseus fights in the Labyrinth is an executioner in a bull-headed mask.) But we keep getting dragged back to another fight scene, or watching Hyperion torture another victim, while the endless finale unspools on three fronts: gods vs. Titans, army vs. army, and the final Theseus-Hyperion smackdown. Most depressing is the carnage among the (evidently not) Immortals, as Singh takes the metaphorical “death of the gods” all too literally. What a disappointment. (R) (110 minutes. (★★) —Lisa Jensen.