Wrath of the Titans (2012) – Directed by Jonathan Liebesman – Starring Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Édgar Ramírez, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, and Bubo (for about ten seconds).
Giving credit where credit is due, WRATH OF THE TITANS addresses one of my biggest problems with its predecessor, Louis Leterrier’s CLASH OF THE TITANS remake: the disconnect in the acting performances of the gods (Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes) and the mortals (Sam Worthington and nearly everyone else). I felt that Neeson and Fiennes were approaching their roles like CLASH was a popcorn flick and Worthington was approaching his like he was making Gladiator and the result sent a sour note wringing in my ears.
WRATH puts everyone on the same level (Worthington’s) and the result is a better, more serious film, but also one that’s lacking in the fun department.
WRATH OF THE TITANS is very close to being a very good popcorn movie. What holds it back, in my estimation, is that it’s just not quite fun enough to make me look forward to watching it again. There are moments here that are actually quite fun but the movie seems completely determined to treat this story of the potential end of the world like it’s, well, actually the end of the world instead of a story in which talented actors with bad hair battle CGI giants with murky features to keep us common folk entertained for 2 hours.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) doesn’t do so well flying the winged horse Perseus, for instance, and after a shaky flight and rough landing, he remarks to the horse, “You used to be better at this.” In response, Pegasus slaps Perseus in the back with one of his massive wings. It’s a small moment, to be sure, but it got real laughs from the audience and I have to wonder if the folks they test screened this film for didn’t want to see more humor or if the filmmakers were so sure of what they were doing that they ignored/missed the positive reaction to the small amount of humor that’s here.
Because what I took from watching WRATH, and what a good number of the folks seated around me in the theater seemed to be taking from the film, is that while we liked it, we really wanted to like it a lot more. Instead of being a sequel that feels repetitive and tired, WRATH OF THE TITANS is a film that’s found it’s groove. The story is simple: Hades has imprisoned his brother Zeus in order to allow their captured father Kronos free to destroy the Earth and Perseus quests to Hell to save his dad. Jonathan Liebesman is not nearly as stylish a director as Louis Leterrier, but the story has been tightened and the acting has improved, and even with all the CGI monsters causing havoc, there’s also a wonderful old school vibe to WRATH that kept pulling me in.
Nowhere in the film is this felt more than when Perseus, Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), and Agenor (Toby Kebbell) battle through some Cyclops to make it to the hut of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), the fallen god and weapon maker. Nighy is brilliantly crazed here as the hermitic god, channeling his inner Patrick Troughton circa Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. When they visit him, Hephaestus keeps yapping to an unseen figure behind him. The clear implication is that he’s nuts and simply talking to himself. But he’s not.
He’s talking to Bubo.
Good on the filmmakers for making that nod back to the original CLASH OF THE TITANS film, but shame on them for not recognizing that their film needs more scenes like this – and not because it pays respect to the original, but because it gives the audience a chance to exhale and have a laugh amidst all of Perseus’ grim looks and Andromeda’s concerned, open mouthed stares.
The laughter should come from Agenor. Half-human son of Poseidon (Danny Huston), Agenor is imprisoned when Perseus visits Andromeda’s war camp to see him. He’s a bit of a drifter character who doesn’t take responsibility for anything and he’s good for a few laughs, but not enough. I like what the story does with Agenor, depicting his rise from ne’er-do-well to responsible citizen, but I wish he could have taken that journey while cracking wise a bit more often.
While the story here is rather grim, at least it’s a story and at least there’s some thematic consistency to WRATH. This film is all about what fathers and sons are willing to do for one another. Zeus asks his son Perseus for help because his own father, Kronos, is about to break free and destroy the world, while Perseus asks his son Helius (John Bell) to sit it out. After the events of the previous film, Perseus is living as a fisherman, raising his son to live a normal life. His wife, Io, is dead, and Perseus is content to live simply and away from the gods and monsters that have made him famous.
I usually dislike stories involving the reluctant hero, but WRATH does it well. I believe that Perseus likes his life and I can see that he loves his son and doesn’t want either to endanger him or break his promise to his deceased wife.
Humanity’s lack of faith in the gods, however, is causing them to lose their power. In a really nice bit of setting the story up, Zeus (Liam Neeson) tells Perseus that it’s not just the power of the gods that is lessening as a result of humanity’s lack of faith, but all of the things the gods have created. For WRATH, that means the walls to the prison of Tartarus are crumbling, which means Zeus’ father, Kronos, is in danger of escaping the prison where he’s been imprisoned.
Now, because you’re smart, I know what you’re asking: If the lack of faith in the gods is causing the gods to lose their power, why isn’t it also causing the Titans to lose their power?
The answer is, Don’t Think About It.
Hades and Ares (an excellent Édgar Ramírez) are sacrificing Zeus to Kronos, and Zeus’ daddy is siphoning off his son’s power to give him a boost, but the Titans seem less indebted to humanity’s prayers then their children. It really doesn’t matter, of course, because WRATH isn’t the kind of movie you go see because you’re expecting narrative complexity. You’re going for a bit of escapism and WRATH delivers on that; it has a skeletal enough script to carry the day, and that’s enough for me.
When Perseus convinces Agenor to come along and show him the way to Hephaestus, Andromeda decides to come along. “A Queen shouldn’t leave Greece,” Perseus tells her, but Andromeda shoots back, “Are you giving me orders now?” Does it make sense for the Queen to go on this rescue quest while her soldiers gather at another place? Probably not, but good for Andromeda for stepping up because that means we get to see more of Rosamund Pike, and the more Rosamund Pike I can see, the better. The fact that Andromeda can take care of herself makes it even better.
There’s a whole bunch of CGI action sequences and they’re all rather good without being spectacular. Battles against the Cyclops, Kronos, and Kronos’ minions all look pretty darn good.
While fathers and sons are the obvious theme, there’s also some nice touches on the subject of brotherhood. Ares betrays his father Zeus to team up with Uncle Hades (Ralph Fiennes) in part because he’s jealous of Zeus’ affection for Perseus. On the flip, Hades ends up betraying Ares and Kronos to help Zeus because of their brotherhood. Hades’ turn leads to one of the better moments in the film; after Zeus has been nearly slain by Ares, Hades gives his brother some of his own power to heal him. Zeus arises from his death bed and the two god brothers head on out to the field of battle for some rousing ass kicking.
Perseus saves the day by combining Zeus’ thunderbolt, Poseidon’s trident, and Hades pitchfork to form the Spear of How The Movie Ends, and he flies Pegasus down Kronos’ throat to slay the Titan. It’s good stuff, and hats off to the CGI folk for their efforts here. (I love how Kronos’ lava cools and hardens before it hits the ground.)
On the whole, then, WRATH OF THE TITANS is well worth some of your Saturday afternoon time. It’s a more solid movie than it’s predecessor and even though Sam Worthington has the charisma of fossilized wood, there’s enough personality with Neeson, Fiennes, and Kubbell to keep things moving. WRATH is a perfectly good sword and monsters movie, and it could have been truly Popcorn Elite had it been a bit less grim.
CLASH OF THE TITANS Review Index
CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981): End of the Line for Ray Harryhausen
CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010): No titans Were Harmed in the Making of This Film
WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012): Being Half Human Makes You Stronger Than a God