Tarsem Singh is not a well known name, yet the chances are you have seen his work, through either the video he directed for REM’s Losing My Religion in 1991, or, if you are so privileged, his 2006 globespanning arthouse release The Fall. Both of those were strongly influenced by Tarsem’s interests in the world of art, recreating or drawing inspiration from great historical works, and the visual template of Immortals is no different, with the director describing it as “hardcore action film done in Renaissance painting style.”
Unfortunately, the two great strengths of The Fall are lost here, and the end result more resembles his directorial debut from 2000, The Cell, which was dragged down by an apathetic performance from Jennifer Lopez, lost amongst the dazzling sets and costumes. Here, Henry Cavill’s Theseus is similarly lost, and while looking the part of a hero, he never convinces as mortal, warrior or son of the gods. Other than John Hurt and Luke Evans as the earthly and heavenly embodiments of Zeus, none of the lead cast give strong performances, though Stephen Dorff as the thief Stavros and Joseph Morgan as the traitor Lysander do their best with material that is as dry as the desert they pass through.
Worst offender by far is Isabel Lucas as Athena, seemingly content to let her costume play the part for her, making even Mickey Rourke’s trademark mumbling and grumbling Hyperion seem appealing. There is no consistency in the acting style; an obvious division could have been stylised performances for the gods in Olympus and more naturalistic mortals, but instead the actors seem to be in different productions, with Dorff a particular sore thumb, desperately trying to be hip in a toga.
The other production decision that made The Fall visually unique in modern cinema was Tarsem’s insistence that wherever possible all elements, whether set, costume or effects, be physically created rather than rendered and composited in computer. Sacrificing that principle gives an end result that is alienating rather than epic, further distanced by the poorly illuminated 3D presentation that darkens the screen and mutes colours, isolating the action from the audience. Instead of participating in a struggle for the future or civilisation, the end result is a tableaux, an artefact, with the viewers observing events in the manner of the the indifferent gods.
The effects, such as the tidal wave triggered by Poseidon, an underused Kellan Lutz in suitably preposterous microcostume, are excellent, and the design is inventive, from the bull motif echoed in the Minotaur and Hyperion’s preferred torture methods, but all is interesting rather than involving. For a film of many disappointments, the greatest is Henry Cavill. Having previously been passed over for lead roles before his casting here, it is easy to understand why, as he never engages with either audience or the other characters, only with his sword. On the basis of this performance, the forthcoming Man of Steel will have an empty tin heart.