With its Greco-Roman setting, computer-generated backdrops and endless scenes of ridiculously ripped warriors engaging in ultra-stylized, ultra-bloody ultraviolence, Immortals is obviously positioning itself to be the next 300. In fact, the film's advertising materials proudly trumpet the connection between Zack Snyder's surprise 2006 smash hit based on Frank Miller's graphic novel -- which chronicled the tale of the Spartan king Leonidas' (Gerard Butler) last stand at Thermopylae -- and this spin on the myth of Theseus (played by Henry Cavill, who is currently playing the Man of Steel in a new Superman flick directed by... Zack Snyder). Since Snyder is busy trying to make audiences believe a man can fly, 300 producers Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari turned to Tarsem Singh, director of cult oddities The Cell and The Fall, to produce a movie in its predecessor's image, albeit with some of his own distinct visual flourishes. So how do 300 and Immortals match up? Quien es mas macho? We pit them head to head in a few key creative areas. (Except for the screenplay, because, really -- who's watching either of these movies for the dialogue?)
300: Zack Snyder was coming off of the well-received Dawn of the Dead remake when he landed 300 and the film wound up defining his style going forward, specifically his patented "slow-down, speed-up" approach to shooting and editing action set-pieces. While the success of 300 vaulted him into the big leagues, he's since squandered a lot of that prestige on his underwhelming Watchmen adaptation and the almost completely nonsensical jumble of video game, fantasy and anime homages that is Sucker Punch. (On the other hand, that animated owl movie he oversaw, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, is pretty great.) One could even make the case that 300 didn't display that much directorial vision, since Snyder lifted so much of the imagery directly out of Miller's book. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether he's an inspired filmmaker or just a glorified mimic.
Immortals: Tarsem Singh, on the other hand, has demonstrated a strong, distinct and original vision in his previous movies, even if both of them are marred by weak screenplays and hiccupy narratives. While he continues to create great spectacle in Immortals, the film represents his first foray into the action genre, which requires a set of skills that aren't necessarily in his wheelhouse. Still, in the movie's best moments, Singh devises grand, awe-inspiring images that make 300 look puny by comparison. And The Fall remains a better movie than anything Snyder has made to date.
300: Especially when compared to Sucker Punch's head-scratching story, 300's plot is thankfully straightforward: Leonidas and his men march to meet the invading Persian army. They fight said army and eventually die in the attempt. The end. It may not be a particularly complex narrative, but at least it clearly outlines the stakes and offers a re-telling of the actual Battle of Thermopylae that's best appreciated as an epic battle poem rather than textbook history.
Immortals: The actual myth of Theseus bears only a passing resemblance to the convoluted story that screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides have concocted here, which pits our hero against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a vicious ruler eager to find a mythical bow-and-arrow that will allow him to free the imprisoned Titans and unleash them on the residents of Olympus, thus starting a heavenly war that he hopes will rid the world of gods forever. After Hyperion kills Theseus' beloved mother, the young man is banished to work in the salt mines, but manages to escape with the aid of virgin Oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) and cocky warrior Satvros (Stephen Dorff). They then engage in lots of smaller-scale action sequences before confronting Hyperion for the big showdown. The plotting is so haphazard that the characters are often required to stand around delivering expository dialogue to remind themselves (and the audience) exactly where they are and what their goal is. Warning to high school students: If you use Immortals as a way to study for an upcoming test about the myth of Theseus, be prepared to receive an F.
Eye Candy (Visuals)
300: Shot entirely on soundstages against giant blue-screens, 300 didn't really look like anything else at the time of its release. (Well, apart from the underrated Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which used similar technology. But no one went to see it, sadly.) Although the video game/comic book aesthetic that Snyder was going for is initially eye-catching, it does turn too cartoony at times.
Immortals: With Immortals, Singh attempts to match the epic scope of Greek mythology and mostly succeeds, filling the frame with towering structures, gorgeous vistas and an Olympus observation deck that allows Zeus and his fellow gods to gaze down upon mankind. The production and costume design is impressive as well and overall Singh blends practical and digital effects more successfully than Snyder did. (Buyer beware: the 3D adds very little to the spectacle; if anything, it only serves to makes the visuals darker and blurrier, a danger that comes with conversion jobs.)
Eye Candy (Cast)
300: Gerard Butler deservedly earned praise for his fiercely committed performance (and stellar physique) as Leonidas, but the rest of 300's cast is fairly forgettable, save for Lena Heady's ferocious turn as Queen Gorgo, whose part was expanded from the original comic and proves to be as much of a bad-ass as her husband.
Immortals: Cavill isn't particularly memorable as Theseus, but Dorff's sarcastic Stavros brings some much needed levity to the movie and Rourke chews up the scenery as the vilest, most sadistic king in Ancient Greece. And where 300 only offered one hot girl to accompany all the equally impressive beefcake, Immortals makes room for the lovely Pinto as Phaedra and the statuesque Isabel Lucas as Athena.
300: While Snyder's particular brand of action choreography has felt played out recently, 300's battles are still visceral and exciting, making effective use of slow-motion and digitally-enhanced bloodshed. The film's best bit of action -- Leonidas' slow-mo charge into a rushing army of Persians and chucking a spear that takes out two of them -- is so good that Immortals rips it off repeatedly.
Immortals: As an action director, there's one thing Singh does particularly well: decapitations. The battle scenes in Immortals are filled with severed heads, which either bounce around the screen (in 3D no less) after being separated from their body or explode in giant burst of blood. It's a neat trick... the first time, at least. But then Singh uses the same move over and over and it loses its effectiveness. Otherwise, the battle scenes are competently put together, but nothing really to write home about or pay 3D prices for.
Overall Winner: Immortals by a well-coiffed hair, although if stylized action is all you're after just rent 300 and chapter-skip directly to the battle scenes.
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