| March 12, 2012

Ever since movies like Sin City and 300, the level of style in action movies continues to increase. Some filmmakers, like Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan, try their best to keep their action grounded in plausibility, whereas others simply take each successive stylized actioner as a challenge to one-up them the next time out. So then we get Wanted and Sucker Punch.

Immortals is a direct descendent of this brand of action, with visuals that look like they’re straight out of a comic book and action sequences that look like they were made for a video game. I’m sure fans of this style of action will love Immortals (especially in its spectacular Blu-ray treatment), but for me, I’ve always been a bigger fan of gritty realism than glossy stylization. And when you think of Mickey Rourke, “gritty” is a lot closer to the mark than “glossy.”

Like in Sin City, the glossiness makes the action look pretty, but it doesn’t change the tone of the film or the performances therein, especially the performance given by Rourke, who is at his meanest and grittiest as the hubristic King Hyperion. Sure, there are scenes where the backgrounds look ludicrous and where there are stunts that are just plain silly, but when you’re in a little dark room staring at Rourke and listening to him growl his lines in a performance reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s chilling turn as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, you forget all about stylization and become transfixed by good old fashioned acting.

As far as the story goes, the film uses the stories of Theseus (Henry Cavill), King Hyperion (Rourke), Phaedra (Freida Pinto), and the search for the mythical Epirus Bow to propel a violent war between good and evil, a war that encompasses both the Earthly and the Heavenly realms.

Compared to the scenes with the vicious King Hyperion, the scenes following Theseus and his band of dirty slaves (including one of my longtime favorites, Stephen Dorff, playing a smart ass thief) just go to show what little star power Cavill has. He did his best, but he just can’t anchor an action film, especially one as mythologically substantial as Immortals.

Still, though, fans of stylized action like 300 will enjoy the Blu-ray treatment of Immortals, which really is amazing, while fans of Mickey Rourke will be pleased with how much screen time he’s given and how seriously he takes his role, infusing King Hyperion with a wealth of entertaining sadism.

And let’s face it: Only Mickey Rourke could believably have a Minotaur as a pet.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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