April 4, 2012

Wrath and Cheese

No one was really expecting anything from Wrath of the Titans. I mean, no one was really expecting anything from Clash of the Titans, yet that one still managed to disappoint. Regardless, a boatful of money can be very persuasive, and a sequel has befallen us underserving mortals. Boasting much of the same "talent", but with the scale ramped way up, Wrath of the Titans sits poised to deliver exactly what I had hoped for from the first. A ridiculous, relentless, effects heavy action flick. The first one was one of the most boring films I can recall seeing that year. This one... not so much. Sure, Wrath of the Titans doesn't have anything resembling a decent plot or a single well developed character. But it is so generous with the gonzo violence that I find myself strangely impressed by it. Though that could just have to do with my lowered expectations. Hm...

Whatever. Let's get into it.

Take me back James Cameron!

Ten years after saving the world from the Kraken and casting Hades back into the underworld, the demigod Perseus is living the quiet life of a fisherman and caring for his son, whom he hopes will never follow in his father's footsteps. Unfortunately, the mortals of Earth have finally turned their backs on the Gods of Olympus, whose power is all but drained. Seeking to regain his immortality, Hades, along with with Zeus' son, Ares, makes a deal with the titan Kronos to deliver Zeus to him, and in doing so release him from his prison in the underworld. Upon hearing of his father's capture, Perseus picks up the sword again and sets out to save his father and stop Kronos, as the titans are released and chaos reigns.

Now, doesn't that sound pretty cool? I mean, hell yeah! It's got gods and titans and power and family squabbles. To bad nothing is done to build on all this awesomeness. I mean, just think of the implications of a son rescuing his father from his uncle and brother, all the while attempting to stop his grandfather from destroying the world. It's complicated as hell. I'm sure it would give Freud a migraine, let alone a lowly theater goer. But rather than plumb the depths of this concept, it goes pretty much unmentioned for the most part. Instead, the script is merely a series of set pieces connected by some pretty horrendous dialogue.

A critic I read brought up a good point about this. You know how some people say that a certain movie is like "a video game you can't control"? Well, Wrath of the Titans is a video game you can't control. Every set piece is just a huge gauntlet, full to bursting with obstacles, at the end of which is boss. Once Perseus dispatches said "boss" he moves on to the next set piece. It's a terrible way to put together a plot, but it serves it's purpose. That doesn't mean I have to like it though.

Sam Worthington returns as Perseus. He does pretty much the exact same thing he did in the last movie... and every other movie he's been in. Though he does make attempts at developing his character, (the stakes are higher for him here) most of the time he just comes off as a brainless meathead, being led from one monster to the next.

Rosamund Pike takes over for Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, who has been upgraded to the status of "warrior queen." She is given literally nothing to do, and is so forgettable, you actually have trouble remembering that she's even involved. Pike doesn't really attempt to make anything of it. You can tell she did this for the check.

Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes returns as Zeus and Hades respectively. While Neeson struggles with his character's plight, Fiennes as Hades does a rather excellent job. He's betraying his brother, but you can tell he's conflicted. It doesn't come through in the script at all, but Fiennes is so good of an actor that he effortlessly presents it himself. Indeed, the arc between Zeus and Hades is the most interesting aspect of the film, and the only one that sees any sort of satisfactory conclusion.

The person who steals the show though is Toby Kebbell as the demigod Agenor. He seems to be the only having fun with his role, and offers a lot of witty line delivery and some welcomed heart. He's the most memorable human in this thing.

I'm feeling that wrath, alright!

But performances and story are not something you'd expect when every single scrap of marketing focuses on the scale and the absurd amounts of destruction. No, action and effects are the name of the game, and thankfully, Wrath delivers where Clash failed to.

Director Jonathan Liebesman earned his stripes (in my opinion, and no one else's) with the unrelenting Battle: Los Angeles a year ago. He, once again, manages to create a film that might be soulless, but damn is it exciting. The action never lets up. It takes all of twenty minutes for the earth to crack open and the demons to come pouring out, and then it's just a never ending slog through chimera's, cyclopses, minotaurs, and makhai. And that's exactly what I wanted from this movie.

True, Liebesman does do the handy cam thing that he did with B:LA here, but while it worked there because he was trying to capture the chaos of shooting war in an urban environment, here, all it achieves is making the action hard to follow. Thankfully, he does take time to pull out and pan, showing all the juicy goodness, as luxury not allowed him with B:LA. 

And it's never boring. For all it's machismo, Clash of the Titans shot its load with the trailers, and everything else was just "blah". Thankfully, the first big action scene here is ten times better than the finale of Clash, and the larger than life battle that makes up the final twenty minutes where gods, titans, and men all face off is pretty spectacular. Sure, there are points where you can tell that they added an action scene just for the sake of adding and action scene, as when Perseus faces off against what I assume is the minotaur. But that finale more than makes up for it.

It's nothing to write home about, and I can almost guarantee I will change my tune if I'm ever bored enough for a second viewing. If you want gonzo, sword and sandals action, but with a better story and way cooler imagery, skip this and rent Immortals. But, terrible story, characters, and acting aside, Wrath of the Titans was alright by me. I didn't hope for much, but what I did hope for, I got. Put yourself in my shoes. Would you completely bash something that did that for you? I didn't think so.

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