01 April 2012

First Impressions: Wrath of the Titans

Assaulting theaters this weekend with a strong and resounding "meh," Wrath of the Titans (2012) is one of the poorest attempts at franchisization to strike the Box Office in a long time. It tries so hard to walk a line between pulp and legitimacy, like a little brother to a real blockbuster jumping up and down and screaming for attention. It is an inherently flawed film, yet it represents an intriguing case study..

Wrath is a sequel to Clash of the Titans (2010), which was a movie really in its time. It was strangely successful because it proved itself on the cutting edge of a few big movie trends in 2010. It became the poster-child for 3D after successes like AVABAR (2009) and Alice in Wonderland (2010), as well as providing a foundation for the star power of Sam Worthington. It also gave us the catchphrase of Spring 2010, Liam Neeson's proud shouting "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!" Despite its commercial success though, it simultaneously became the bedrock for the faulty 3D post-production conversion process and the incredible blandness of Worthington as a leading man. While a sequel to Clash of the Titans seems obvious, on second inspection it's incredibly misguided.

I want to go to there
I was excited going into this film, actually. While Clash had its problems, it was certainly an entertaining hour-and-a-half and that's about all you can expect from these things. Still, both films are almost from a different age narratively. They are both very much "men on a mission" films comprising of quests or journeys for a certain special item that is the only way to destroy the Big Bad Thing, and once that item is attained the actual final conflict tends to be anticlimactic. Contemporary action films rarely take this kind of premise anymore. Especially evident with the Superhero genre, they tend to focus more on individual accomplishments and quests that aren't so blatantly straightforward. Both these films, whose plot structures are identical, tend to have very clear set-ups that fit directly into a reluctant-but-destined hero kind of broad genre.

This is the major reason why Wrath just seems so bland. There isn't a ton going on here and the beats of the action don't really turn any heads. Still, the effects of this movie are outstanding in effectiveness and scope. That's the one big thing to take out of this film. All the monsters, locations, and big battle scenes look pretty good, from weird, two-headed bat monsters (between these and white apes, March was a great monster month), to intricate labyrinths and giant lava men. There were also those guys whose back was another guy. Pretty cool stuff.

There is a huge scope to this film, which is cool. The giant lava man, Chronos (yes, apparently they translated this dude into a gargantuan monster made out of lava that wants to destroy the world for some reason), is awe-inspiring, spreading cobs of lava over the armies that stand against him. The same goes for his great prison of Tartarus. No, not that dude. I am really hitting the references out of the park today, where else will you find Francisco Goya and Halo 2 mentioned in the same paragraph? But this is undoubtedly a big film, with huge, expansive, and elaborate sets and locations, and stakes that involve the fate and deaths of the gods themselves against the rise of man.

This is kind of why you feel it's all in the wrong hands. Director Jonathon Liebesman really only has Battle: Los Angeles (2011) under his belt, which is another film gifted with a great hyped up media campaign that drove people to see a lousy film. Beyond that...there is no one else really here. Wrath of the Titans isn't an installment in any other actor's best oeuvre, besides perhaps Worthington and Rosamund Pike, who can add this to her Die Another Day (2002) credentials. Crap.

So let's get into these actors and characters for a second. The aforementioned Rosamund does a great "Oh Shit!" face and is a pretty good improvement playing the same character that Alexa Davalos did in the first film. She's far more hands-on, although in the end her character isn't really necessary to the progress of most of the quest portions of the film. Still, it's nice to see some broad get in on the action. She also gets a part of what I'll proudly proclaim as one of the most awkward kisses in movie history. Spoilers here abound, as if you couldn't see this coming, but after Worthington kills Chronos pretty easily, Rosamund gets right back to making a battle plan for some reason. It escapes me why she would do this, as every bad guy is dead. As she blathers on and on Worthington walks in, after a film filled with mild flirtation, and plants one on her lips without warning. She looks at him, he leaves. Then the film ends. It's one of the more insane things I've seen on a screen in a while and I'm glad I experienced four seconds of a love story to end this terrible film.

The major difference, I think for the better, between this and Clash was the use of the gods, mainly Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Ares. In Clash, throughout all the crap Worthington was going through, Zeus seemed to always be around but wouldn't exactly help him, mostly because he's a huge dick. The biggest observation these films express pretty well, actually, is that in a lot of Greek Myths as they stand the gods are total assholes. As the people within the films also realise this they begin to turn away, which the films completely justify. Wrath makes the preposition that when their followers do this, the gods lose their power and then die, although it doesn't exactly make sense how or why this happens, or how someone like Ares can die even though plenty of soldiers are still praying to him.

Wait up, Jackass!
Still, Zeus is absent from helping Sam Worthington, even though he grew his curly mullet out to symbolize that he's become a father. This is because Zeus is captured by Hades and Ares. The journey of Hades is kind of wonky, even though he is the Big Bad Mastermind in Clash, he's kind of a puss here. Areas says this numerous times and Hades rebukes him each time, even though Ares is clearly correct. So eventually Hades turns around and teams up with his brother Zeus for no real reason except in return for Zeus' forgiveness, which I guess must be pretty sweet. It was cool to see the two of them kick some ass, although their sudden loss of power seems ill-timed and didn't make sense.

All in all, this film seems to be about the transition between a world ruled by gods to a world ruled by men. It's an interesting bridge from mythology to the modern era, but it seems a bizarre setup to a threequel, Bath of the Titans (2014), featuring Rosamund Pike. They killed all the major gods except for Hades, and he's Perseus' best buddy now. It would seem as though the forces behind Wrath truly believed in the bad press this film would received. There won't be any long lingering love for this film, nor was there actually any for Clash. It's just something that no one really cares about.

So this thing was killed by The Hunger Games (2012) this weekend. No surprise there and it would seem that the public is much more interested in dramatic hot teen future battles than gritty ancient ones. Wrath really just needed a catchphrase - "RELEASE THE...lava man."

"What are you waiting for?!" just doesn't cut it, Sam.

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