As the sequel to a remake of an original with no sequel, WRATH OF THE TITANS stands as both a cauldron of possibilities and perhaps the quintessential follow-up film that no one asked for. Yes, the dark and self-serious 2010 CGI-driven re-imagining of 1981's beloved Ray Harryhausen swansong CLASH OF THE TITANS did do awfully well for itself at the box office, but then again, as the first 3D movie out of the gate post "Avatar" (and boasting that film's star as the heroic Perseus), its success was practically pre-ordained by the gods. (Never mind that the 3D was a post-conversion rush job, widely panned and called headache inducing... This was, in retrospect, the very early first ding in the armor of the crumbling stereoscopic trend.) But, with the benefit of not being a direct remake of any previous film, WRATH has the freedom to go in new and surprising directions; a considerably more blank slate, awaiting the muses.
Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE LOS ANGELES) steps into the director's chair vacated by CLASH'S Louis Leterrier, crafting a more-effective-than-not sword and sandal mini-epic of the ancient Greek variety. As far as quests into the heart of Hell go, this one is surprisingly agreeable. Agreeable that is, when the action is boiling. Thankfully, most of the time, it is. Liebesman delivers a wealth of stunningly cool visual set pieces, occasionally with jaw-dropping creative flair. The film is satisfyingly imbued with lava, grit and 3D embers. Unlike its predecessor, WRATH OF THE TITANS' 3D is rock solid, a rare case of the technology contributing to the overall experience. (If this is a post conversion - and I believe it is - so be it. The kinks have been worked out. At least this time.) The film boasts no shortage of brilliantly rendered multi-headed attack beasts and massive lava spewing balrogs for our dirt-sprayed heroes to try to kill, with each encounter reinforcing any argument for this movie's popcorn-spectacle existence.
Having said that, I must add that aside from being wowed by Liebesman's visceral showmanship, I didn't feel anything. The story picks up ten or so years later, with Perseus as the widower father of a growing boy. He's shunned his adventure-prone god-side in favor of the quiet life of a fisherman, the sort of existence that can't last beyond the first ten minutes of a film like this. Sure enough, his father, the great god Zeus, shows up with some dire news. It seems that the humans' abandonment of praying has weakened the gods, and is therefore weakening their creation (i.e., the universe, the earth, the ground they're standing upon, etc.). The evil Hades then takes this opportunity to imprison Zeus in the underworld and empower the affect of Ares (Édgar Ramírez), the god of war upon the earth. So, as all hell is breaking loose in the mortal realm, Perseus must saddle up on his winged horse Pegasus and ride into actual Hell to save the father he never cared for. Exciting on a sensory level (itself not dismissible), yes; but on an emotional one? No it is not.
Liam Neeson and Ralph Finnes once again square off in Round Two of the most unlikely SCHINDLER'S LIST reunion of all time as the dueling mega-polarities of good and evil, Zeus and Hades. The Alexa Davalos Andromeda of CLASH has aged into Rosamund Pike, who makes for an attractive take-charge version of the character. Bill Nighy and Toby Kebbell pull their weight as surprisingly non-glaring comedy relief elements in this otherwise weighty affair. None of them need this on their resume, but each of them nevertheless earn their paycheck on this most unquestionable of paycheck jobs. It's with leading man Sam Worthington that the casting goes awry. This is not to say that Worthington is a fundamentally bad actor or that he's not working hard here (he is), it's simply that he's lacking that fundamental something that all natural born movie stars have, and all others lack. For several years, Hollywood has been convincing itself that Worthington is the Next Big Thing, the manly antidote to the two-decade rash of boyish Josh Hartnetts and Leonardo DiCaprios. The actor has proven that he can swing a sword and gnash his teeth accordingly, but when it comes to emoting an existential crisis, he's simply not the guy for the job.
In terms of sociology and religion, it can be argued that the film in fact doesn't say nothing. Mired within both Leterrier's CLASH and Liebesman's WRATH is a clearly present yet unformed grappling of mankind's relationship to our deities. Perseus, the celebrated half-human son of the most high Zeus, spends both films in a state of brewing inner turmoil, hating the gods while simultaneously acting out his divine destiny. While neither film puts the kind of button on this situation the way one would expect such a multiplex potboiler to do, the questions, however murky, still remain. Even as both TITANS films lean humanist in their man-versus-gods tension, the fact remains that somehow through it all, the higher powers still matter. In today's fallen world, with Greece itself in some of the worst financial dire straits of all major nations, it's important to consider such larger questions as we all struggle to get by. Thoughts like these, however, are merely colored sprinkles one can take or leave while consuming this particular hot fudge sundae of a movie.
The presence of the occasional laugh line is a sign that this otherwise heavy-laden adventure yarn isn't taking itself too seriously. It's breezy and merciful ninety-nine minute running time is another. Although time will tell whether WRATH OF THE TITANS proves as forgettable as its 2010 predecessor, this much is certain: like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, here we have another sequel that surpasses its original. (Keep an ear out for a reference to that film, by the way.) This perfectly non-essential bit of cinema has a long future as an eye-popping demo reel for the visual technicians involved, and in the meantime, should not incur the wrath of filmgoers.
- Jim Tudor
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