In Tarsem Singh’s Greek-myth-derived Immortals, the gods are golden people in glowing golden robes and armor. The evil Titans they imprisoned in the earth long ago are scaly grey, wearing dim grey clothes. Peasants dress in yellows and browns, priestesses in vivid bloody reds, torturers in complicated woven black leather. Color is characterization in Immortals, which is handy, since otherwise, the characterization—like the acting, the story beats, and most other aspects of the film—is as broad and nuance-free as a long stretch of desert highway. Tarsem doesn’t do subtle; as with his previous films, The Cell and The Fall, he mostly does staggeringly rich tableaux, with muted but intense emotions to match.
But in Immortals, the vision doesn’t feel like his own. Billed more as “from the producers of 300” than as “a film by Tarsem,” Immortals meshes 300’s beefcake-and-blood aesthetic with the short-lived resurgence of mythic content that brought Percy Jackson & The Olympians and Clash Of The Titans in 2010. Like 300, it’s relentlessly synthetic, full of Zack Snyder’s signature slow-down-speed-up action, welters of consciously fakey CGI gore, and bulging pecs as far as the eye can see. And like 300, it talks up the human element while being utterly uninterested in humanity. There’s a plot: An angry, grieving king (Mickey Rourke, who’s genuinely intimidating, particularly in his seeming amusement at all the nonsense around him) sets out to bring down the gods by finding a magical bow and releasing the Titans, while peasant hero Theseus (Henry Cavill) sets out to stop him. But story is a low-rated consideration, well below the film’s textures and colors.
Curiously, though, those textures and colors often don’t have Tarsem’s usual verve. Cavill in particular looks like he was cast and costumed out of a ’60s swords-and-sandals epic; he wouldn’t look remotely out of place fighting a Ray Harryhausen skeleton. The 3-D tends to separate into planes, with rounded characters in front and flat, complicated backdrops in back, giving much of the film the look of an old 3-D View-Master reel. The elaborately costumed characters often look terrific in their ridiculously complicated headgear and torso-baring getups, but the shiny digital world around them never looks as warm and organic. Like The Fall and The Cell, Immortals mostly proceeds at an operatically slow pace (to match its operatically high pitch) so audiences have time to appreciate how its world looks. But that pacing also gives them time to think through the film’s flaws, from its plodding script to its complete lack of depth. As mythic spectacles go, it beats Clash Of The Titans, particularly in the areas of intimidating villainy and actual Titan-clashing. Nonetheless, it isn’t any smarter than its inspirations, just prettier.