Wrath of the Titans
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Édgar Ramírez, Danny Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Matt Milne, Lily James. Written by Greg Berlanti & David Johnson & Dan Mazeau, from the 1981 film written by Beverley Cross.
Well, it’s certainly got the scale and spectacle of a blockbuster. During the climactic moments of Wrath of the Titans, a sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans (itself a remake of the 1981 film of the same name), the Titan Kronos, represented as a walking volcano, spews lava and molten rock over the countryside, leveling villages with a single swoop of his arm, the gods powerless to stop him.
Our hero Perseus sails towards the monster on the back of the winged horse Pegasus with a rod of lightning in his hand. And Kronos spews lava. And Perseus swirls around him. And the music swells up on the soundtrack. It’s almost hypnotic; I can’t recall if the scene is shot in slow-motion, but it seems to unfold over five or so minutes, like the house-exploding finale of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.
And it’s almost enough to make you forget that we have little idea of what, exactly, is going on. What will the rod of lightning do, what Perseus’ plan is, how he can make it out alive, where he and the other characters are in relation to the monster, or what kind of danger they are in. And then the action and spectacle stops, and the film is in real trouble, with precious little story to propel it along.
Sam Worthington is Perseus, the half-god son of Zeus, who was offered a place at Mount Olympos as a reward for defeating the Kraken at the end of the previous film but instead chose to live the simple life of a fisherman, raising his young son Helius (John Bell) in a small seaside village.
But father Zeus (Liam Neeson) returns to request Perseus’ help: you see, people have stopped praying to the gods, and they’re losing their powers, and the walls the prison Tartaros are crumbling, releasing monsters into the world. Oh, and since the gods are losing their powers, they can also die (didn’t I see this a few months ago in Immortals?) The gods can die, yes, but they’re still plenty superhuman. Despite this threat of death hovering around for whole movie, we never learn what, exactly, can kill a god, except the will of the screenwriters.
The original Clash of the Titans was a legitimately fun (if supremely cheesy) old-fashioned epic with some wonderful Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects; its 2010 remake was a slickly-produced big-budget B-movie that might be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure. Wrath is a different beast altogether: serious and heavy-handed, simplistic and straightforward, all the fun is drained away. This is a Greek epic in the style of the Michael Bay Transformers films.
Director Jonathan Liebesman previously made the incomprehensible Battle: Los Angeles; Wrath of the Titans feels like it came from entirely different person. I was surprised at how coherent much of the movie was, especially the action sequences: a memorable opening battle against a chimera, featuring some impressive unbroken shots, is a textbook example of how to shoot an action scene that an audience can understand.
Unfortunately, while Liebesman has jettisoned the shaky-cam, rapid-fire editing style of his previous feature (likely in anticipation of the 3D presentation), the same level of coherence isn’t found in all the action sequences; a climactic battle between Perseus and his brother, Ares (Édgar Ramírez), is just about a complete mess.
Ramírez, by the way, so wonderful as the titular character in Olivier Assayas’ 2010 Carlos, is completely wasted here. Ares, along with Neeson’s Zeus and Ralph Fiennes’ Hades, are some of the most boring Greek gods ever to grace the screen; their barrage of awful dialogue actually helps to keep our interest.
Among the gods, Danny Huston returns in a smaller role as Poseidon. Worthington’s Perseus again makes for a decent-enough hero, and Rosamund Pike, replacing Alexa Davalos, is a lovely Andromeda. Toby Kebbell livens things up a little as Agenor, Poseidon’s half-god son.
I didn’t even get to the Cyclops, the Minotaur, the maze of Tartaros, the double-torsoed Makhai, Bill Nighy’s amusing Hephaestus, and a (very) welcome cameo by Bubo, the mechanical owl from the 1981 film. Yes, there’s a lot on the screen in Wrath of the Titans. But so very little behind all of it.
Wrath of the Titans is screening in 2D and 3D versions. After the (reported) 3D conversion debacle of the previous film, I chose to attend a 2D screening. That may not have been the best decision; Wrath of the Titans has little else besides visual spectacle to offer, and most reports deem the 3D worthy (though – as far as I can tell – this film, like its predecessor, has also been shot in 2D and converted in post-production).