Sifting Through the Sword & Sandal Artistic Fuzz That Was ‘Immortals’ (2011)


How Tarsem Singh’s audacious attempt at sword & sandal action stands out today.

The success of 300 opened the door for a small revival of Sword & Sandal flicks. In 2011, director Tarsem Singh grabbed the opportunity to create his take on Greek mythology. Known for his visually striking style, Immortals was his first action film. His collaboration with rising star Henry Cavill and actor legend Mickey Rourke stands out as a unique entry to the genre, so let’s have a look!

King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his army devastate the land in search of the legendary Epirus bow. Warrior Theseus (Henry Cavill) sees his mother killed during a raid by Hyperion’s army on their village. He is captured, and his path crosses with that of the oracle Phaedra. Their journey to save the remaining free Greek people from Hyperion leads them towards the ultimate battle between the gods and their sworn enemies, the titans.

Your gods will no longer mock me. I will release the titans!

Greek mythology has a been a rich source for action-packed adventures, bestowing decades of great films upon us. Just like Clash of the Titans the year before, Immortals grabs the myth of Theseus and builds its own tale with no ambition to stay even remotely close to the original stories.

And Singh provides some otherworldly visuals for this trip into the realm of mythology. Stunning image compositions make every frame look like a painting, often enchanting and sometimes terrifying. Epic shots of giant armies and rugged landscapes alternate with small, stage-like sets, that feel like a throwback to the Ray Harryhausen classics of old. Hyperion and his army sport monstrous outfits which are contrasted by the lavish fashion sense of the gods. Despite this artistic extravaganza, all scenes looks consistent and nothing really feels out of place or ridiculous.

Decapitations, Castrations and Eviscerations!

The cast delivers convincing performances, even though there are not given overly demanding roles. The male actors also impress physically with oiled bodies that are shaped like Greek statues. Cavill showed that he has the talent, charisma and looks to become the formidable action hero he is now.  But Mickey Rourke steals the show from everyone despite only mumbling and grumbling when opening his mouth. His Hyperion has an incredible presence, a sadistic and jaded king, who doesn’t even take real pleasure in torture anymore, and only yearns for one last, but eternal victory.

Despite its elaborate visuals, the film never pretends to be more than a straight forward action adventure; heroes are heroes, and villains are villains. And what Singh creates in the action department hits incredibly hard. The fights are full of gut-wrenching brutality with decapitations, castrations and eviscerations galore. Many scenes are shown in slow motion so that we don’t miss any details of this excess of blood and gore.

No God will ever come to your aid. You are alone!

The gods and titans are merciless superheroes, and their battle is a perfect climax to the film. The intensity Singh puts on screen tops everything in the genre, and we witness a grotesque choreography of blood fountains and shredded bodies. The film excels at delivering its action sequences with great clarity, and is also one of the rare instances of a modern genre film where CGI are well integrated into the action, and do not feel flat and sterile.

Immortal’s combination of ornate visuals with high-octane action is something you don’t see everyday. Even if you do not buy into all the artistic fuzz, the movie never fails to be an exciting ride. Despite being a financial success, Hollywood hasn’t been ready for more action extravaganza from Singh since then, but let’s be grateful he created this truly special Sword & Sandal experience!