WRATH OF THE TITANS
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson, Greg Berlanti (story)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Toby Kebbell, Bill Nighy
In Hollywood (as it does elsewhere), box office rules all. Critical approval matters not. Case in point: WRATH OF THE TITANS, the unwanted, unanticipated sequel to 2010′s CLASH OF THE TITANS, a remake of the 1981 fantasy-adventure best remembered (if it’s remembered at all) as Ray Harryhausen’s final film as a stop-motion animator. With the latest computer-generated technology now available, Harryhausen’s clash between and among gods and men seemed ripe for revisiting and, thus, it was. Almost $500 million later and the decision to greenlight the first sequel in a hoped-for franchise became a foregone conclusion and now, two years later, the sequel, WRATH OF THE TITANS, just as CG-heavy as its predecessor, this time featuring a less rushed, more polished 3D post-conversion, arrives in multiplexes everywhere to compete for box-office dollars with THE HUNGER GAMES, last weekend’s undisputed winner (and this weekend’s too).
The Greek gods have fallen out of favor. Few pray to them. Their temples neglected and overrun with flora. And with the gods ignored and (almost) forgotten, their powers ebb and fade. Eventually, the gods will become mortal, perish, and fade into oblivion. At least that’s what Zeus (a magnificently bewigged, bearded Liam Neeson), the greatest of the great Greek gods, tells his half-human son, Perseus (Sam Worthington, unkempt), when he visits him, apparently for the first time in a decade. Perseus, the one-time hero who defeated the Kraken (after its release, of course) in CLASH OF THE TITANS, has retreated from worldly honors. Perseus prefers to live the simple life of a simple fisherman. He openly dotes on his only son, Helias (John Bell), the product of his monogamous partnership with the recently deceased Io (Gemma Arterton, too busy on HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS to return for a cameo).
Perseus initially rejects Zeus’ pleas, but the sudden appearance of a two-headed, fire-breathing chimera swiftly changes his mind. Before Perseus can join Zeus, however, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the god of the Underworld and Zeus’ brother, and Ares (Édgar Ramírez), Zeus’ other estranged son (and the god of war), betray Zeus and Poseidon (Danny Huston), the god of the Seven Seas. Still perturbed by real and perceived slights and betrayals, Hades agrees to free their father, Kronos (depicted here as a gigantic lava monster), from his prison under Mount Tartarus. Freeing Kronos requires god-power, the kind of god-power only the ruler of the gods himself, Zeus, can provide. Not incidentally or coincidentally, draining Zeus’ powers takes time, just the time Perseus needs to go on a quest to get help from Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Poseidon’s demi-god son, warrior-queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike, pinch hitting for Alexa Davalos), and Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), a former god and weapons-maker who designed the subterranean labyrinth created to imprison Kronos.
Perseus’ adventures provide just enough of a rationale for periodic outbursts of CG-driven mayhem and destruction (and vice versa). Stepping in for Louis Leterrier (THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THE TRANSPORTER), Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, DARKNESS FALLS) deserves credit, considerable or otherwise, for the surprisingly deft handling of CG-driven set pieces. Dropping the jerky, jittery shaky-cam he used (and over-used) on BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, Liebesman adopts a classically influenced filmmaking style that emphasizes spatial geography (and geometry). To take a step back, Leibesman’s style was dictated as much by the 3D post-conversion planned before WRATH OF THE TITANS went into production as it was a conscious decision to depart from BATTLE: LOS ANGELES filmmaking style, but for that, at least, we can be thankful.
What we can’t be thankful for, however, is another underwritten, underwhelming script, this time by first-time screenwriter Dan Mazeau and David Johnson (RED RIDING HOOD, ORPHAN). To call Mazeau and Johnson’s screenplay by-the-numbers would be (and is) an understatement. WRATH OF THE TITANS suffers from a thinly plotted, linear, videogame-based storyline, under-motivated characters, sub-par, semi-literate dialogue, including sporadic attempts at humor, mostly through Agenor and Hephaestus’ characters, and a perfunctory, unengaging romantic subplot. All of that, of course, is secondary, even tertiary. WRATH OF THE TITANS isn’t about Perseus’ personal journey, his reconciliation with Zeus, or his decades-long conflict with Ares. It’s certainly not about Zeus’ personal problems with Hades or their father Kronos. Ultimately, WRATH OF THE TITANS delivers exactly what the title promises: A fantasy-action-adventure set against the backdrop of Greek mythology and the best computer animated monsters money can buy.