Wrath of the Titans (United States, 2012)

March 30, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Wrath of the Titans Poster

For those with a burning curiosity to know how The Lord of the Rings as directed by Michael Bay might look, Wrath of the Titans provides an idea. This is epic fantasy for teenage boys as only Hollywood can do it: with plenty of grotesque monsters and big explosions replacing characters and narrative. The film's Big Baddie, Kronos the Titan, looks ready to go twelve rounds with Optimus Prime. The action is video game-inspired, perhaps more than slightly influenced by the God of War series. The storyline bears a passing resemblance to that of Immortals, although neither film does more than occasionally borrow from classic Greek mythology. Zeus undergoes a particularly vicious form of character assassination, but director Jonathan Liebesman needn't worry since it's unlikely he'll sue.

Wrath of the Titans is a sequel to 2010's Clash of the Titans (a remake of the 1981 feature of the same name). Like its predecessor, Wrath of the Titans is interested exclusively in spectacle. The characters are uninteresting and the quest-based storyline is dumb but the filmmakers offer enough special effects-charged battles that one is occasionally tempted to concentrate on the things that work and forget about all the other stuff. Still, there's a sense that Liebesman wants to make the central conflict epic but he is undone by time constraints. The movie breezes by at the fastest pace imaginable, pausing only occasionally for moments of exposition. The climax, which features an army of humans facing off against demonic creatures straight out of Tartarus, can best be described as perfunctory.

The movie picks up about a dozen years after the first one ended. Perseus (Sam Worthington), the slayer of the Kraken, has become a hermit, living in relative isolation as a fisherman with his only son, Helius (John Bell). His wife, Io, has died because Gemma Arterton elected not to appear in yet another special effects-driven movie. Meanwhile, on Olympus, things aren't going so well. People have stopped praying to the gods and this lack of faith is sapping their powers. Their ability to hold together the prison of the Titans is weakening, and things get worse when Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) agree to a pact with Kronos to betray Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Poseidon (Danny Huston). Perseus is forced back into action to rescue Zeus from Tartarus. He takes with him Agenor (Toby Kebbell), the half-human son of Poseidon, and Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), the princess (now queen) he saved from the Kraken. In Greek mythology (and the 1981 Clash of the Titans), Perseus and Andromeda were an item. With Io out of the way, Wrath of the Titans falls into line, although this relationship is unromantic even by male teen-oriented action movie standards.

Sam Worthington is not an actor of great range, but his popularity has made him a major casting choice over the last few years. In Wrath of the Titans, he gives us a hero so brooding as to make Christian Bale's Batman seem like the life of the party. During the 99-minute running time, Perseus may not crack a single smile, although he scowls a lot. Despite the he-man appearance, it turns out he's not much of a fighter, either. For much of the movie, he's a punching bag for assorted monsters (chimera, Cyclops, the Minotaur, etc.) and Ares.

If Andromeda looks a little different than in the first movie, that's because she is now played by Rosamund Pike (instead of Alexa Davalos who, like Arterton, determined that avoiding Wrath was a good career move). Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson return as Olympians, once again fooling us into thinking there must be some substance here. I'd love to know how many numbers preceded the decimal points on their paychecks. I must admit there's some pleasure to be had watching these two share the screen, although it's not sufficient to save the movie. Their dialogue doesn't reverberate with Shakespearean profundity. At times, it's more in line with the utterances of Ming the Merciless.

Having endured the abomination that passed for a 3-D conversion on Clash of the Titans, I elected to spare myself the torture of a repeat - you know the saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." So I skipped the (3-D) press screening and saw it at a (2-D) regular showing. I therefore cannot speak to the quality of the hopefully improved 3-D but can say the version I saw was bright, busy, and chock full of chaotic action scenes. And if I was confused by the fights in 2-D, I can only imagine what they looked like through the glasses.

While watching Wrath of the Titans, I tried to imagine how I might have felt about it with 30 years shaved off my age. As a teenager, I probably would have thought of it as being cool but inconsequential. A diversion, but nothing to dwell upon. I would have forgotten about it on the way home in the car. I can't say my overall impression as a 40-something is much different. Wrath of the Titans is not painful. It's noisy and frustratingly shallow but not boring. It typifies the kind of thing that happens when a movie exists solely because its predecessor was successful at the box office. Like Twilight, this is a product made with a specific demographic in mind. The rest of us can shake our heads sadly and remember that not all movies - big budget or not - are as soulless as this one.

Wrath of the Titans (United States, 2012)

Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2012-03-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1