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Mpaa Rating
R (for extreme, pervasive violence, gore, brief nudity, and sexual situations)
Directed By
Tarsem Singh
Run Time
1 hour 50 minutes
Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto
Theatre Release
November 11, 2011 by Relativity Media

Here is what the people who made Immortals are counting on, I think: there is no movie so viciously unrestrained in its depiction of violent cruelty that someone won't label the person who calls it such a prude; there is no movie so sadistically stylized in its decapitations, impalements, eye gougings, and torture, that someone won't defend it on the grounds of being unrealistic and, hence, "just a movie"; there is no action so inherently revolting that it can't be accepted as entertainment if rendered in CGI; there is no violence that can be visited upon the human body in a military narrative that cannot be stripped of its ability to horrify by praising the warrior who risks enduring it so long as he mouths some politically cherished iconic word while doing so.

I am reasonably sure this film was pitched somewhere, in some room, as a cross between Clash of the Titans and 300. It has the former's mythological Greek setting and the latter's fetishistic sadism masquerading as a celebration of genuine military virtues. Mickey Rourke plays Hyperion, a hulk of a king who incessantly spits his food, chews with his mouth open, and slobbers over his beard. Rourke is a fine actor, but he is in a film where characters are given stock symbolic mannerisms to symbolize what the lack of a coherent plot cannot. He is pillaging towns trying to find and capture Phaedra, a "virgin oracle" who will have the ability to tell him where a supernaturally powerful bow has been hidden. He plans to use the bow to release the titans, a race of immortals imprisoned by the gods of Olympus after a war in heaven. Henry Cavill plays Theseus, a peasant that Zeus proclaims may be the only one who can stop Hyperion and of whom he paradoxically commands that no god must assist. The rationale? If the gods want the humans to have faith in them, they (the gods) must have faith in humans.

Henry Cavill as Theseus

Henry Cavill as Theseus

It would be simple enough after a brief plot description to go into full satirical mode, attempting to show how bad the film is by how easily it is mocked. It would be easier still, I suppose, to compose yet another jeremiad—a lament over the newest nadir in the history of vain attempts to quantify a film's offensiveness by dividing its potential artistic value by the extent of its gratuitous objectionable content. Such responses are themselves clichés, however, and I fear all they really do is provide the makers of a bad movie with an evasive scapegoat with which to drum up support through identity politics that can't be earned through artistic merit. Plus, I don't really think anyone who is likely to share my objections to the film on these terms needs me (or anyone, really) to tell them that it is cruelly, barbarously, savagely, callously, inhumanely, pitilessly (on both its characters and its audience) violent and hence likely to offend his or her sensibilities as such.

There is plenty in the film to earn a bad judgment, but let me just mention in passing a subtler, more disappointing fault of the film that is about what is not in it: emotion. It is not merely that the violence desensitizes us, although it does. It is also that the lack of any semblance of humanity in those who wield it or those who suffer its effects renders the consequences of that violence devoid of any larger meaning or power.

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