REVIEW SUMMARY: Witless sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans that plays fast and loose with Greek mythology and internal logic.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hades bleeds power from Zeus to bring about the reign of the Titan Kronos, causing Perseus to once again do battle.
PROS: I’m thinking…well-done special effects, I suppose…
CONS: Messy script; frantic, pointless direction; dull performances…need I go on?
Somebody gravely insulted Zeus. How else to explain the existence of Wrath of the Titans, sequel to the 2010 remake of the 1981 pseudoclassic Clash of the Titans? That was a huge hit, so of course the studio gods would demand and greenlight a sequel. And, upon hearing of its existence, again I held my breath. My review of the previous movie was, shall we say, somewhat less than enthusiastic, but I raised my hopes upon hearing that Titans II boasted a new director and writers. Okay, we’d still have to sit through another movie starring Sam Worthington—an actor so devoid of charisma or presence that he makes Kevin Costner look like Sir Laurence Olivier—but if the studio replaced Louis Leterrier as director and Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi as screen scenarists, then how bad could it be? (Note to self: I must, must learn when I ask, “How bad could it be?” the answer will be, “Worse than I can possibly expect.”)
Then I learned who the studio brought in to replace them.
For starters, they hired director Jonathan Liebesman, who previous effort included the Michael Bay as Dadaist headache Battle Los Angeles and the post-Sixth Sense scare-free horror pic Darkness Falls. Dan Manzeau and David Johnson accept screenwriting duties, the latter of whom wrote last year’s Red Riding Hood, a movie so wretchedly inept that a friend and I wound up clearing an aisle of viewers during a screening because of our laughter. As I turned off my smartphone and entered the theater I wondered how much worse things could get.
And then the movie started. And the real fun began.
Set ten years after Perseus (Worthington) defeated the Kraken, thus ending the power play between Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Wrath opens with Perseus raising his son Helius in a fishing village. Zeus meets him one evening to ask his assistance; humanity’s lack of faith has weakened the gods, it seems, making it difficult for them to maintain their supremacy over the Titans, led by Kronos. Were the gods to cede power to Kronos, he would destroy the world. Perseus, of course, wants no part of this, forcing Zeus to meet Hades and Poseidon (Danny Huston) in the Underworld, where they may forge a plan. But Hades, along with Zeus’s son Ares (Édgar Ramírez) betrays them; chained like Prometheus, Hades siphons Zeus’s powers in order to bring Kronos to life, ultimately forcing Perseus to seek help from Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon’s son Agenor (Toby Kebbell) is stopping Kronos’s ascension.
As bare bones story, Wrath of the Titans, like Clash of the Titans before it, promises no small adventure. Gods and Titans wage war with humans—an early sequence finds Kronos’s chimeras, looking like Harryhausen’s stop-motion skeletons after subjected to 800-degree flames, duking it out with the citizens of Perseus’s fishing village—but never generate the frisson or thrill of incredible sequences. Much action flashes across the screen with the grace and poetry of a quadruple amputee wheeling down a busy Los Angeles freeway. Perseus battles well-rendered Cyclopeses and a Minotaur (?!), but it all feels divorced from any credible fantasy world. Rather than setting it in the Greece of mythology, Wrath’s action takes place in an unnamed quasi-fantasy world that more resembles a carbon copy of the television series Hercules mixed with a second-rate rendering of the Time of Legends in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits—and then, as an afterthought, a few of the unexplored passageways of The Fellowship of the Rings’s Mines or Moria. A viewer might be forgiven for no longer following the movie fairly early in order to spot the next fantasy-film ripoff. A case in point: by the time Zeus is so sapped of his divine essence, he resembles Gandalf the White dosed to the eyeballs on heroin, a wizard as imagined by a Darren Aronofsky wannabe. Alas, Liam Neeson is no Ian McKellen.
It doesn’t help, either, that Manzeau and Johnson cram elements of Greek mythology into their screenplay without thought or care. Perhaps, once tasked with hammering out a filmable script (a dubious proposition here at best), some coked-out studio head tossed them a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and told them to use whatever they could find. We get Cyclopes but no Odysseus, a labyrinth designed by Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) instead of Daedalus, a Minotaur but no Theseus. I’m all for freeing oneself from the quest for the one true version of a myth (to paraphrase William Irwin Thompson), but one should at least have some understanding of how those myths worked. In this regard, Wrath of The Titans resembles Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, which showcased scenes and settings with little understanding of their nature and no interest in their origins.
All of which could be forgiven had Liebesman allowed his movie room to breathe. As if terrified that he will lose his audience, he cranks the volume and frantic pace up to their maximum settings, but never bothers showing why any of it should matter. Perhaps if he had given more for his best actors to do than glower at each other through a CGI haze, or even had a decent lead to work with. But Worthington, now no stranger to big-budget spectacles, still generates nothing that screams leading man; he is as two-dimensional as the effects, even when the theater provides 3D glasses.
And yes, for those who are curious, that damned owl Bubo is still in this franchise, this time as the confidante to a delusional Hephaestus. The imaginary conversations he holds with it somehow seem apt; it shines and seems brilliant, but stands lifeless, blank, and, when you think about it, really does seem pretty silly even as you try to imbue it with meaning. It sounds all too familiar.