Back in 2010 the much-anticipated remake of the 1980s Ray Harryhausen’s last film, Clash of the Titans, hit the screens. The buzz surrounding the film was quite big, though not all of it was positive. Opening in March 2010 it was the first starring role for Sam Worthington after his turn in the all-time biggest hit Avatar. The marketing for the film was everywhere and the shown footage pretty impressive. The film seemingly went for the mixture of good old adventure films with some 300 aesthetics thrown into the mix. On the other hand, shortly, before the film’s release a post-production 3D conversion has been suddenly announced, an obvious attempt to cash in on Avatar’s 3D success. Given how short notice the decision was, it was clear that it’d be a rushed job taking away more from the film than actually adding to it. That fact alone already left a sour aftertaste with movie followers online.
Then the movie came out and while the 3D was expectedly terrible, even in 2D the film didn’t fully deliver. Its action was too generic, there was little sense of excitement, it lacked engaging characters, Worthington’s acting was wooden and the film’s strongest asset – its impressive supporting cast – was criminally underused. Most of all, however, the film will be remembered as a paragon of botched 3D post-conversion. However, it still became a massive worldwide success and since money dictates everything in Hollywood, a sequel has been quickly put into motion. Now, almost exactly two years later, Wrath of the Titans hits the screens nationwide with the new director, Jonathan Liebesman (who took over the reins from Louis Leterrier), and the film’s star, Worthington, promising everyone an improvement over Clash’s failings to which Worthington readily admits. Does the film live up to their promises? Yes and no.
Set ten years after the first film, the follow-up sees the ancient world in turmoil. The people stopped believing in Gods who, in turn, start to lose their powers and thus their immortality. Once the Gods lose their power, Kronos, the leader of the Titans and the father of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, will break free from his prison in Tartarus. Meanwhile, Perseus (Sam Worhington) lives the quiet life of a fisherman. He promised his deceased wife Io (played by Gemma Arterton in the first film) to lay down his sword and look after his son, Helius (John Bell). When his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson) approaches him about helping the Gods to stop Kronos, he strictly declines. In a last effort to stop Kronos, Zeus joins efforts with his brothers Poseidon (Danny Huston) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). However, Hades and Zeus’ son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) switch loyalties and betray Hades’ siblings, leaving Poseidon dead and Zeus trapped in the underworld. Perseus realizes that he cannot escape his destiny. Reluctantly he joins forces with Queen Andromeda (Rosamunde Pike) and Poseidon’s demigod son Agenor (Toby Kebbell) and embarks on a quest to the underworld to rescue his father and the whole world from Kronos’ rule.
Obviously the filmmakers did learn a thing or two from Clash of the Titans – such as not to slow down the action with something resembling an engaging plot. One of the first movie’s failings was the disjointed nature and incoherence of the plot. Wrath’s paper-thin screenplay at least features a solid quest with the finish line and the ultimate goal clearly defined from start to finish. Don’t look for much logic along the way, though, as the film is mostly just a showcase of various action scenes in which our heroes encounter mythical creatures foraged from a wide variety of ancient Greek myths. During the 99-minutes running time and witness Perseus and his team take on the Cyclops (Homer’s the Odyssey), the Minotaur (Theseus and the Minotaur), Chimera and others. Luckily the ancient Greeks have left quite a wide array of monsters to choose from, though after the two Titans films one has got to wonder if there is much left for the likely third film. Admittedly, the visual effects have significantly improved since the first movie and the action scenes, except for the CG-overkill finale, actually do carry a great level of excitement and fun despite the typical quick editing. In its best moments, it is just an old-school ancient-creature feature. However, whenever anyone of the film’s principal cast opens their mouth to deliver yet another horrible one-liner or a terrible wisecrack the film comes to a screeching halt bringing the viewer back into the reality of an awful screenplay. Worthington’s hasn’t really gone up a notch since the last film and Kebbell’s character is more annoying than funny (clearly he is supposed to be some sort of comic here). Rosamund Pike’s Andromeda (Pike took the role over from Alexa Davalos in the first film) is introduced well as a feisty and strong warrior queen, but ultimately she is just not given much to do. The love story forced upon her and Worthington’s character is so ridiculous that you can’t even call it perfunctory.
However, if there is one flaw of the original that Liebesman realized and improved upon is that Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, the first film’s biggest names, are no longer reduced to glorified cameo appearances, but actually do play substantial parts in the film, even getting to participate in some of the action scenes. It is a wise decision and the two play off each other very well, each providing the gravitas needed for their Godly roles. The two seem very much in on the fun. Their characters actually flat out state that in the movie, announcing that they can “Put on a show and have some fun”. The always reliable Bill Nighy also has an over-the-top appearance as a fallen God injecting some humor and energy into the film. This is just the kind of self-awareness that most of the movie sadly lacks, taking itself far too seriously and trying to emphasize the whole father-son dynamics that, frankly, no one can take seriously. This is not a thoughtful drama about responsibilities of being a father and the fear of disappointing your parent (even though at times, it tries to go into that direction, right before the next monstrosity shows up). It’s difficult to take these themes seriously when seconds later the hero is jumping on the back of a fire-spewing two-headed monster. The logic needs to be left right at the door (in one scene Perseus protects himself from fire with, wait for it, a wooden door!), then it is actually possible to derive some enjoyment from this silly romp.
Nevertheless, not all of the first film’s flaws have been corrected. Inexplicably the decision has been made to convert this film into 3D as well (as opposed to shooting it with 3D cameras right away). The good news is that the 3D version actually doesn’t worsen the experience this time around with one or two in-your-face effects working pretty well. However, for 90% of the film’s running time it doesn’t enhance the viewing quality in any way either, thus rendering the conversion, once again, no more than a money-grabbing gimmick.
Overall, Wrath of the Titans is your typical Hollywood sequel. It ups in the ante in all departments delivering higher stakes, bigger action set-pieces and cutting down on something resembling a story. In the case of this film it works well because the man-on-monster and demigod-on-demigod scenes are the only parts of the film that actually work well and thankfully there is a lot of that in the movie. Nevertheless, once can’t help but be disappointed that given the richness of the Greek mythology, this half-baked effort, its predecessor and the style-over-substance exercise that was Immortals are the best that Hollywood could come up with in recent years. At least this film is a step in the right direction although a small one. Maybe the progress can continue with the third movie.