‘Wrath of the Titans’ Dazzles with Graphics, not Plot
Wrath of the Titans -- Jonathan Liebesman (Warner Bros.) -- 3.5 Stars
“Release the Kraken” is the phrase that launched 1000 memes. This iconic imperative sentence from “Clash of the Titans” was gleefully absurd, with the deep voice and straight-faced delivery of Liam Neeson. Thus, it set an endearing tone of faux-gravitas. “Wrath of the Titans” exists in a similar state of tension between stupidity and charm, tending towards the latter. The movie is definitively entertaining due mostly to the impressive special effects. However, its forgettable narrative and poor handling of Greek mythology makes for a series of impressive Computer-Generated Imagery shorts more than a proper film.
“Wrath of the Titans” opens with its hero, Perseus (Sam Worthington) living as a fisherman, distinctly not saving the world as he did in the precursor film “Clash of the Titans.” Meanwhile, Zeus (Liam Neeson) is dealing with an uprising from jilted brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and daddy-issues afflicted son, Ares (Édgar Ramírez). Shortly following is a clunky scene that explains why Perseus has renounced his position as demigod in favor of a mortal existence—just in time to be unable to use his former powers to help his father. However, when monsters attack Perseus’ home village, he is inevitably dragged into the conflict.
The movie efficiently delivers complicated CGI renderings; however, the narrative is a string of pointless series of characters always looking for a suddenly-introduced item or person, chugging along innocuously until a monster or god shows up for another fight.
These fights are the film’s true raison d’être. Director Jonathan Liebesman, whose previous work includes such expensive spectacles as “Battle Los Angeles,” uses his hefty special effects experience to provide an entertaining spectacle in the short term. The CGI sections are impressive especially in the two scenes that book-end the movie. An early monster fight employs a kind of long-form tracking shot, but, of course, with a two-headed fire-breathing chimera inserted for good measure. The final battle is a marvel of special effects, featuring a convincingly animated enormous giant made of lava, a satisfying pay-off for all the silly plot exposition—if you can call it that—preceding the ultimate scene.
The film’s violence is decidedly bloodless and refreshingly simple. Bucking the slow-motion, gory stylizations of Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals” or Zac Snyder’s “300,” the film embraces the velocity of real-time action shots and the straightforward brutality of the choke-hold, pile-driver, and repeated punches to the ribs. These fights tend to be somewhat anti-climactic—one would expect Gods to have a bit more chutzpah—but the result is a charmingly low-fi experience for such a high-budget movie.
The actors’ skills range from competent to overqualified. Worthington is suitably muscular yet disappointingly deprived of any personality. Neeson and Fiennes both give off the impression that they’re slumming for a paycheck. The dramatic weight both actors bring to bear on their roles as Greek gods that comes off as simultaneously appropriate and ridiculous.
Adding to this corny gravitas is the strange costuming, more akin to the flowing white robes of Elrond in “Lord of the Rings” than the togas of ancient Greece. The only exception to this phenomenon of overqualified actors playing over-serious Gods is Hephaestus, played by Bill Nighy, who acts his part as the delightfully unhinged God of the Forge, standing out as a dynamic—if psychotic—character amongst a crowd of actors always grimacing in their self-seriousness.
Despite the charms of some of the cast, the movie ultimately falls apart in its banal narrative. Like so many other films about Greek mythology, “Wrath of the Titans” dilutes the stories inside to the point of insipidity in an conflation of poorly-related myths—be it of the Titans or the Minotaur. What is left is an unsatisfying rehash of commonplace Greek mythological tropes.