Monday, April 02, 2012

Wrath of the Titans

WRATH OF THE TITANS (Jonathan Liebesman, 2012)

Although Perseus (Sam Worthington), the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), could be so much more than a fisherman and widowered father, he is content to pass his days in this humble manner in WRATH OF THE TITANS.  Family problems force him to abandon the low-key life he has chosen, though.

Zeus comes to Perseus with a dire warning that his imprisoned father, Kronos, is becoming more powerful and may soon break out of Tartarus.  Perseus doesn’t want to get involved, but when Zeus is taken captive in the underground prison by his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), he accepts that he must again come to the rescue of those mortal and, for the time being, immortal.

Joining Perseus on this adventure are the battle-tested queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon’s son, the mischievous demigod Agenor (Toby Kebbell).  Along the way they must fend off many monsters, fight Perseus’s half-brother Ares (Édgar Ramírez), and break into Tartarus.

Even if it isn’t saying much, WRATH OF THE TITANS stands as a minor improvement to its predecessor.  The various CGI beasts that attack Perseus and crew boast inventively nasty designs. The fearsome Kronos resembles a stories-tall nightmare eruption from hell in vaguely humanoid form.  Ancient times are brought alive in an eye-popping digital world of gods, demigods, and men.
Director Jonathan Liebesman previously helmed the visually incoherent BATTLE LOS ANGELES, which was my pick for last year’s worst film, but in WRATH OF THE TITANS he manages the action scenes with a bit more patience than what has become the standard practice for chaotically shot and edited blockbusters.  To satisfy my taste he could still slow it down a bit more to allow for greater appreciation of all the computer wizardry involved in the action.  Nevertheless, at least this is a step in the right direction.

WRATH OF THE TITANS works not to take itself too seriously and hints that something of substance resides between the setpieces.  As Hephaestus, who possesses a map into and out of Tartarus, Bill Nighy provides welcome comic relief.  The screenplay identifies potentially rich thematic terrain with gods losing their strength because the people are  becoming more secular and praying less to them.  That exploring a contemporary theological concern is treated as fallow ground within popcorn entertainment comes as no surprise yet adds to the list of the film’s missed opportunities.

The trip into the Labyrinth ranks as the biggest and most bewildering chance that WRATH OF THE TITANS blows.  Rather than exploring the untold challenges and mysteries within it, the trip through the maze is brief and mostly uneventful. Like much of WRATH OF THE TITANS, these scenes are navigated with the dispassionate and ceaseless forward momentum inherent in following and completing GPS directions.  Perseus gets where he needs to go, but his journey contains as much excitement as there comes from being told to drive straight for a hundred miles.

Grade: C-

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