Tarsem Singh's "Immortals," which hits theaters on Friday, has as much to do with Greek mythology as Adam Sandler's "Jack & Jill" has to do with the unraveling of the structure of DNA.
Yes, the main character's name is Theseus. Yes, there are characters named Phaedra and Zeus and Athena, just like you might see if you pulled your tattered Edith Hamilton down from the shelf. But it isn't *that* Theseus. It isn't *that* Phaedra. And it's barely that Zeus or that Athena. The effect is similar to watching a slacker comedy about a pair of video store clerks whose names happen to be "James Bond" and "Dr. No."
"Immortals" is also set in the perplexingly contemporary and specific 1228 B.C. but it has no connection to any factual history either.
Scripted by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, "Immortals" in an amorphous blob a familiar pseudo-mythological and pseudo-historical elements possibly culled from a half-reading of Joseph Campbell and grafted together with a half-baked philosophy derived from what I'm fairly sure is a misreading of the Socrates quote that starts and ends the movie.
"All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine," Socrates said, but when we're talking about mythological and narrative immortality, it seems to me like what the writers have done to the established story of Theseus and the Gods is basically the opposite of what we're supposed to believe about the durability and resiliency of legend. It's like saying, "Yes, this is how you become a legend. And then 3000-ish years later somebody will come along and ignore all of that stuff."
There's a point I'm trying to make here and I may not be making it well, so I'll just bottom line it: With its pretenses towards literary and cultural tradition, "Immortals" gives you a lot to think about, but it's probably better that you don't. This is not a smart movie, a thoughtful movie, nor a movie that gives you any reason to invest in character or plot.
What "Immortals" is, though, is a work of frequently breathtaking beauty. The trailers have been cut together to emphasize the involvement of some of the producers from "300" and to make viewers think that what they're getting is another tale of speed-ramping Spartans and CGI excess. But whereas "300" director Zack Snyder is, at best, an extremely gifted mimic -- I'm not going to be forgiving "Sucker Punch" any time soon -- Tarsem Singh is that rarest of cinematic creatures: He's a true visionary, though I'd restrict that mantle to calling him a visionary stylist, rather than a visionary storyteller.
Because "Immortals" looks and feels like a Tarsem Singh film, rather than a "300" manque, it ends up far outstripping the merits of its script. I don't think "Immortals" ends up being a good movie, but like all of Singh's films, it's going to make a killer full-color, glossy coffee table book.
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