Originally Posted March 31st, 2012
Though a remake of the 1981 film, 2010’s Clash of the Titans had its roots trace back to the “peplum” fad of the 1960’s, where bodybuilder stars played Greek warriors and gods in campy stories full of cheap sets and unintentional hilarity. “Clash” was a revival of that trends worst aspects, bringing back the wooden acting and plot goofiness of its forbearers but wrapped up in $125 million dollars of CGI and post-conversion 3D. It was not a good movie, not even close, something that would have forced Warner to pump the brakes on their franchise plans had it not made scads and scads of money at the box-office. The newly released Wrath of the Titans shows clear signs that Warner was aware of their mistakes; bringing in new writers and a new director are certainly the best place to start when righting the course of a what could be a $1 billion dollar franchise.
It’s a shame then that, even with the fresh blood, “Wrath” is the same mix of familiar action and goofy mythology that characterized its first outing. Demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) is enjoying life as saviour-turned-fisherman when apocalyptic parole for the imprisoned titan Kronos threatens to upend his seaside retirement. Deadbeat dad Zeus (Liam Neeson) getting captured by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is the last straw before it’s time for Perseus to break out the ol’ sword and sandals for more monster slaying and mythological sightseeing.
As a study in Greek classics, “Wrath” takes an everything but the kitchen sink and blender approach, combining characters and creatures from across the Hellenic board and setting the mixture to puree. It’s as big a mess as ever but a noticeably more confident one. That’s partly due to a reworking of the established material that’s just shy of retconning. “The greatest stories are written in the stars” soothed demigoddess and love interest Io at the beginning of “Clash,” though she fails to mention that heavenly bodies are fans of rewrites. She’s absent this go around (read: dead), replaced by queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), who was the damsel in distress in part one, but is now a feisty warrior princess. The comic relief is shared between newcomers Hephaestus (a delightful Bill Nighy) and Agenor (Toby Kebbell), who should satisfy anyone wondering what Jack Sparrow would have been like if played by Russell Brand.
The rejiggering does, for the most part, make the gods and men at the centre of the story more watchable. Worthington as a lead still maintains the resonance of old porridge, but Neeson and Fiennes are both more enticing, with increased screen time for the former and less Voldemort-style rasping from the latter. The theme of family remains dominant, a challenge for any writer, considering the kind of cavorting Greek gods are known for. Still, even when dealing in legendary levels of familial vendettas, Perseus’ daddy issues don’t really hold much interest when the fate of the world is at risk.
But it’s hard to expect relationship advice from a series that’s most memorable for the memetic “release the Kraken,” especially when the ads feature plenty of swords a slashin’ and beasties howling. Director Jonathan Liebesman handles most of his action scenes well, using long takes and greater scope than his predecessor to make Worthington’s reaction shots to CG monsters more engaging, save for one noodle limp and incomprehensible Minotaur brawl. They’re a nice showcase for the pretty effects and set designs that assuredly comprised the majority of the film’s budget. Filmed in native 3D this time around, shots designed specifically to exploit the extra dimension are kept to a minimum, and the effect blends in almost unnoticed, for better or worse.
Yet it’s all as dramatically featherweight as ever because the mythology is a veritable Bat-utility belt of writing cop-outs. The powers of godhood are loosely defined so as to fit whatever purpose present circumstances call for (the one consistency seems to be Perseus’ ability to withstand repeated ass-kickings). The gods can now trace back mortal prayers to their origin (thanks Patriot Act!), without much reason for it beyond providing excuse for dramatic entrances. And how are you supposed to understand the stakes of a fight when you’re not sure who’s immortal to what, when and whom? When told that gods don’t die, Perseus replies that, “they do now.” It’s as though he inherited Zeus’ power to simply make something so by saying it.
There’s such a careless, make-it-up-as-you-go sensibility to the film that it becomes reminiscent of a game of Dungeons & Dragons; you can tell those involved had a lot of fun creating this fantasy but lord if it isn’t a dull affair when you’re watching it play out from the sidelines. Wrath of the Titans can hold its head a bit higher than its predecessor, but it’s a modest improvement for a franchise that needed a Herculean one.
2 out of 5