Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Immortals (2011) shares the politics of 300, the plot of Clash of the Titans, and negates its worth as 3D spectacle by looking glorious in 2D.

110 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

While Immortals has been advertised as a knock-off of 300, it's actually pretty much a variation on Clash of the Titans through-and-through.  In fact, the only real similarity it shares with Zack Snyder's 2007 blockbuster is its (unintentional?) racism and its rather explicit right-wing politics.  Like 300, the film involves a very white guy (Henry Cavill, who will indeed make a fine Clark Kent in two years) who does battle with another white guy (Mickey Rourke, in arguably better form than he's been in anything since The Wrestler) who is pissed off at the Greek gods because his wife and child slowly died of some unnamed illness.  Fair enough, but at the end of the movie (yes, there will be spoilers, even generic ones...) we get a big (and very impressive) battle between the Greek gods and the evil Titans.  The Greek gods are dressed in gold armor and are as Anglo-Saxon as can be (played by Luke Evans and Isabel Lucas, among others) while the Titans are well, savage humanoid monsters with really dark skin.  So we get a climactic battle between angelic white people and demonic black men.  Subtle...

It's not quite as funny as 300's racial politics, which pitted the uber European Gerald Butler and his fellow light-skinned heroes against what I called back in 2007 a 'Rainbow Coalition of Evil'.  The villains were technically Persians, and at the time I perhaps foolishly worried that the film's massive success would make the picture potent propaganda for an American invasion of Iran which Seymour Hersh constantly warned us was right around the corner. and they included a variety of black men, implicit homosexuals, Hispanics, Arabs, the physically handicapped, and the sexually promiscuous.  In fact, the only group left out was evil Jews, an exclusion which I took great offense to at the time.  But in the realm of foreign policy, the two 300 and Immortals are identical, with the new film being even more explicit about what is clearly a right-wing, secular = evil ideology.  To be brief (first time for everything), the hero's arc concerns a man without faith who is spurred into action after his faithful mother is murdered by Mickey Rourke.  There is much talk about faith from the female lead (Freida Pinto), with oodles of 'Where's your Messiah, NOW!" ramblings from the evil King Hyperion.  The kicker is towards the end of the second act, where virtuous Theseus (Cavill) encounters resistance from the leader of a stronghold.  The leader in question (Stephen McHattie) not only doesn't believe in the gods (heathen!) but also believes that negotiation is a reasonable course of action against the bloodthirsty savage.  When he is eventually killed off, his death is both theatrical and intended to draw audience approval.

Just like the Transformers films, Immortals stands both as a visually-dynamic action picture and an implicit critique on those who question the post-9/11 foreign policy strategies of George W. Bush and, alas, Barack Obama.  That the film is a piece of right-wing propaganda does not make it a bad film anymore than Prince of Persia's eight-years too late Iraq-invasion critique makes the latter a good film.  What makes it a relatively weak film is how padded it is in between moments of genuinely impressive and eye-popping action spectacle. When violence is being done, it is imaginative and exquisitely choreographed and the fight scenes are often edited with long and fluid takes with a constant sense of geography.  And while some of the blood seems CGI, the amount of blood and gore is almost refreshing in this day and age.

But what stood out most about the picture is its 3D effects.  This is worth noting because I saw the film in 2D.  Point being, the film makes a case for the unnecessary nature of 3D conversions even on films where it is put to somewhat good use.  Like Avatar, viewing the film in 2D still allows viewers to see every effect and every relevant composition with a pretty good idea of how it would have looked in 3D.  Many of the images actually look 3D even in their 2D 35mm form, meaning that the glasses and ticket-price up-charge is merely a case of highlighting what we can already see and appreciate.  So while the film certainly was intended to be viewed in 3D, the 2D compositions are so striking in their three-dimensional that they render the actual 3D conversion rather pointless.  Whatever the merits of the film otherwise, be it its politics or its well-staged and bloody-good action sequences, Immortals stand tallest as a rebuttal for the whole 3D conversion process.  Ironically, by looking strikingly 3D in traditional 35mm film, Immortals negates the need for those 3D glasses and the price bump that they entail.

grade: C+  

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