A version of this review appeared in The Age, November 24, 2011.
This is the nuttiest Hollywood fantasy in a long while – but unlike most of its kind, it does attain a certain epic grandeur. The credit goes to director Tarsem Singh, a music video whiz who bills himself as simply “Tarsem”, and who belongs to the small club of filmmakers fully up to the challenge of using 3D.
Tarsem favours wide shots over rapid editing, making bold use of “impossible” backdrops and contrasts of scale. It’s a style that fuses the ancient and modern: when the swashbuckling Theseus (Henry Cavill) races alongside dispatching his enemies one by one, the action might be inspired by classical friezes or scrolling computer games or both.
Loosely drawn from Greek myth, the plot centres on the war between the Athenians, eventually led by Theseus, and the invading Cretans under the command of King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, gearing up for his rumoured role as Genghis Khan). Occasionally we cut to the gods – including Australia’s own Isabel Lucas as Athena – stiffly posed in the forecourt of their Olympian mansion, awaiting the moment when the Titans are released from Mount Tartarus to wreak havoc.
The gory violence throughout would be repulsive if it weren't so abstract: heads explode like fireworks, and warriors fight bare-chested so we get an unimpeded view of blood flowing from their wounds. Evidently, Tarsem has more than a sneaking sympathy for the martial code of Hyperion – an unusually warm, charismatic villain, despite his penchant for random slaughter whenever he suffers a setback.