Film review of The Immortals (and all its tropes)

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect upon this movie, and align my thoughts through writing about it, I have to admit that the charm has worn off. Basically, the film is a mostly garbled account of Theseus finding the Epurian Bow, becoming a believer of the gods and eventually one of them after defeating the very evil Betty. Hyperion. Whatever. He had all the depth of a teaspoon. (I won’t even go near how this as far removed from actual Greek mythology as possible.)

The 300 influence is made very clear in the highly stylised settings, colour and fight choreograpy. Visually, the film is astounding, all credit being due where it is. The fabrics were lucious and the sets hugely detailed. I thought the gods were slightly pornographic in the Xerxes sense, what with gold being the pimp’s metal, but they were awesomely strong. For once, there was the sense of unbridled power that gods should have. Athena’s fighting style was especially sharp and fluid and the final fight between the gods and Titans was superbly handled. (It was also stomach-churning, like the rest of the movie.)

But its not enough to save a movie. Personally, I was annoyed by the whole “he was an unbeliever, but now look how awesome he is now that he believes in the gods, Chosen One, weeoo-weeoo”. Yes, I know, that stems from my own personal ideology rather than the movie itself, but it does grate a bit. It looks like easy evangelism. Now, I’ve said before that I love action movies but this one was just a bit much. Of course, no one expects action movies to be art, and I wasn’t expecting much. And yet, there are some fundamental problems with this movie that made it taste a little bitter. Let’s go through the tropes here.

There’s the typical woman stuffed in the fridge; the main character’s mother is slain before him, and all we know about her is that she was religious and was raped once by villagers. (I don’t think she was even given a name.) Later on, she becomes a Lost Lenore, in which her corpse proves useful. Its never really made clear what happened to disappeared Dad. This gives him the Orphan Power-up as well as turning him into a Convenient Orphan. He is also the dutiful son, as well as being the last of his kind AND the sole survivor. There’s the gross sidekick/follow-along guy, the Wannabe Casanova who says the kind of shit that suggests a punch is not enough, making him a straw misogynist. There’s the Noble Virgin (as you can imagine, that doesn’t last long because Nature abhors a virgin) who is also the champion and living MacGuffin. And, of course, the fake virgins just weren’t as pretty.

And its almost like the producers (who made 300) thought no one would notice if they recycled a few things. Gratuitous torture (amped up to 11 in this movie), virgins in lovely flowing dresses, action scenes shot like a scrolling platform game, gods dressed in gold, soldiers with ridiculously impractical cloaks and rousing speeches from underdogs, all done in the same copper tones. Isn’t it directors who should stamp their style like that?

Sometimes, a movie is worth it for the visuals alone. But the writing is so bad and the plot is so thin that it couldn’t be seen without Sherlock’s microscope, that its better just to watch the action scenes on Youtube. Even some of the fights were a bit stilted; I don’t know why the running looked like a sped-up shuffle.

And I so badly wanted this movie to be better. Greek mythology is rich and all that effort spent on visuals should have given me something less trite. But there’s always going to be the Ultra White Masculine Hero, the women basically stepping stones to his glory. Even Athena gets her ass handed to her. At least in 300 Queen Gorgo was given a beautiful speech and got to kick some ass by stabbing the disgusting rapist. Its something. It is sad that we have to reach so hard for a female protagonist these days. I think Salt is one of the few movies where the female protagonist fights on her own the entire way without a man stepping in (a la Kick Ass.) And at least Kill Bill offered up some decent female fighters without the ultra sexing up that usually attends such characters, like Sucker Punch did. I mean, are panty shots necessary in an action sequence?

So, I guess Immortals is great for those who enjoy gratuitous torture. Like Saw, really. But if Se7en was your pace, then this is just going prove that violence for its own sake will always be tacky.

Triple Whammy Movie Review

One of the reasons why I am glad to be back in Joburg is that I do not have to wait a month until after a movie comes out to see it. So, in deference to the new purpose of the blog (ie not an angry feminist bitch blog, as it previously has been seen), I would like to offer my thoughts on new movies, and one I watched recently that isn’t new.

Clash of the Titans 3D

Overall, it was not great art, but it was in the vein of 300. Lots of well-designed monsters and landscapes. The dialogue wasn’t too painful, other than the “Someday, someone has to say ‘enough'” kind of rhetoric. The main guy was a bit of an annoyance, because if I was given the power of the gods, I would use it. Who wouldn’t? Um, Io was strange. There was a little bit of cradle-snatching going on there, but at least no gratuitous sex scenes/romance scenes etc. It is very loosely based on Greek mythology and they thieved from the Koran a bit with the Djinn, but since no one looks to these movies for great accuracy, this is fine. (Although 300 was remarkably accurate.)

The scorpions are well worth a mention for their sheer nastiness and excellent design. Charon (which they prounced ‘Karon’ instead of ‘Gahron’ in the correct Greek style) looked like the cover of a metal album. Which is awesome. His boat was superb as well. Visually, the movie offered interesting interpretations.I particularly enjoyed the interpretation of the Kraken, even though it is a creature of Icelandic and Norwegian mythology and not Hades’ demon voodoo poodle. I just wish that Ancient Greeks didn’t sound so American or Scottish. I know that we cannot be certain of what they sounded like, but they could have modelled it on a Cypriot accent. Because of its relative isolation, Cyprus speaks the closest dialect to Ancient Greek. Mind you, it isn’t the sexiest accent in the world. Neither is American. In any case, it jarred that these hardcore Greek warriors sounded like they fell out of a Hollywood studio.

The 3D, for a change, was superb. Alice in Wonderland had shocking 3D, and I have it on authority that Avatar, apparently filmed for 3D, was poorly rendered. (James Cameron is such a blowhard.) And speaking of 3D, that brings me to…

How To Train Your Dragon 3D

I watched the trailer for this and thought, ‘meh, looks lame’. But from the opening til the ending, I really, really enjoyed it. The wit was superb, the dragons stunningly rendered and the characters well-rounded and likeable. Toothless was absolutely adorable, in his looks and mannerisms. Like a big, fire-breathing puppy! Its good to see a kids’ movie returning to the relationship between child and animal. I think Disney helped encourage a love of animals in me, and I would like to see more of that in movies. The visuals were phenomenally well-rendered, Dreamworks providing the best 3D experience thus far. Garfield and Friends in 3D is next best.

Sure, none of the ideas were particularly new. Father-son relationships, being the odd one out, befriending the enemy etc, but what Dreamworks does best is inject new life into old concepts. I loved Stoic the Vast, who just dominated the screen whenever he was around with his amazing beard and breast-hat. Toothless and Hiccup were just so amazing, and often I was just so moved by the simple joy of their relationship that I came close to crying, Movies these days often don’t inspire me with just visuals alone, but HTTYD managed friendship without cliche. The movie really should have been horribly cliched but it wasn’t, and I loved it. The little accident that happens to Hiccup at the end stopped it from being disgustingly cheesy, so good work.

So, good on Dreamworks. For the fantastic design of the dragons, the DnD references, the cast, the voice work. I loved it all, and now look forward to finally watching Up.

Hancock

I wanted to see this the moment I saw the trailer. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Will Smith. Maybe its because he only has three facial expressions. Sad/kicked puppy, action man and comedian.

But Hancock put a very interesting spin on an old,and now tiring, genre. As a superhero, he is not awesome with a tragic flaw. He is just an ass. It takes work to groom him into being a relatively well-behaved superhero. He is an alcoholic, destructive, rude and sadistic anti-hero and it takes a really, really good normal guy to help him in an excellent role reversal. Because hero movies have always been about the hero inspiring others, and its nice to see the real good guy being a normal guy. The movie looks at PR, prisons, personal rehabilitation and the life of superheroes. The twist comes out of nowhere, is deftly handled and makes the movie even funnier.

The action was superbly choreographed, especially the opening car chase/car flying scene. Will Smith plays an asshole really, really well, and reluctant good guy equally well. It was good to see someone do something new with the superhero genre, similiar to what Robert Downey Jnr is doing with Iron Man. Because his Iron Man is a rich, narcissistic ass, which is unusual for a Marvel character. Tony Stark, who has an extreme intelligence, should not play well with others. The intelligent and brilliant usually don’t. That he is a man with money and attractiveness and uses it to get all the things he wants does make him unapproachable by the common person.

Hancock and Tony Stark are not supposed to be like us. Superheroes are not famous and long-lasting because they pay bills and deal with the traffic like we do. We admire them because they do things we cannot, because they are our wish-fulfilment creatures. It is why we read and play fantasy games. Most of us want to be or do more. For some of us, being awesomely good at martial arts or parkour or science is the closest we’ll ever get to being heroes. Most people on this planet will sink into mediocrity.

Perhaps this is why Tyler Durden is so seductive as a character and idea. The point of fight clubs is to remind men of their personal power, something they may feel robbed of in this new age. After all, they are no longer needed by Western women for anything, really. Wanted, of course, but not needed. We earn our own money, can adopt or buy children and hire specialists as needed for various tasks and household needs. Fight Club, I think, addresses this feeling of being unneeded. What the clubs do, then, is provide both group therapy and self-empowerment. So, to sum up Tyler Durden:

“Getting fired […] is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way, we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives.”

Tyler says this after he puts a note amongst the rich hostess’ perfume bottles saying “I have urinated into one of your fine bottles”. The hostess goes insane, cuts herself to pieces on the bottles filled with whale oil and pain, and Tyler is glad that this act will free him from his menial, shit job. Later:

“I am trash,” Tyler said. “I am trash and shit and crazy to you and this whole fucking world,”Tyler said to the union president. “You don’t care where I live or how I feel, or what I eat or how I feed my kids or how I pay the doctor if I get sick, and yes I am stupid and bored and weak, but I am still your responsibility.”

This is why we have superheroes. Because most of us are stuck in menial, shit jobs, or in situations we don’t know how to change, or feel we don’t have the power to change. Tyler splices porn into kids’ movies to entertain himself. Tony Stark builds machines and is an alcoholic (in the comics), and Hancock drinks enough whiskey to drown a whale. Sometimes the closest we come to being like our heroes is that we have the same flaws, except that they colossally fuck us up more.

I love Tony Stark. Because I wish I was insanely smart and rich. I wish I was Tyler Durden, because he has the guts to be the anarchist I can’t be. I love Hancock because he was left behind and wonders ‘what kind of bastard I must have been if there was no one to claim me when I woke up’. Perhaps we can relate to them, but mostly we can’t. Superman is flimsy because he is too perfect. Especially after he was turned from 30’s vigilante to Christian poster-boy during the Vietnam War.

I don’t know why a movie review ended up becoming a dissertation on the place of the superhero, but if you are interested in this kind of cheap psychology, then read Superman on the Couch. All I really have to say is that I love comics and animé and movies because, like everyone else, I have wishes I can’t fulfil and that I turn to others to do it for me.  Because most of the time, I feel like this:

“What Tyler says about the crap and the slaves of history, that’s how I felt. I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see. I wanted the whole world to hit bottom. Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.”