Wrath of the Titans Review
There’s no denying that Louis Leterrier’s 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans utterly disappointed audiences on a multitude of levels, further cementing Sam Worthington as one of the most wooden Hollywood stars, and threatening to derail 3D as the new benchmark for terrible post-production conversions. Ray Harryhausen’s original 80s Clash wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but the remake appeared to mismanaged almost all the core elements, stripping away the romance, ruining the centrepiece monsters, and leaving the end result a vacuous watch that was considerably more tolerable on 2D home formats than it was as a Big Screen 3D escapade.
Conversely, the sequel – 2012’s Wrath of the Titans – is an improvement in every respect. Far from a great movie, it is still far closer to the enjoyable, entertaining, and often action-packed swords-and-sandals fantasy that its predecessor so wanted to be. Even the 3D – again done in conversion – is pretty good. Indeed the only real downside to the sequel is that its narrative really does require viewers to have watched the first film beforehand (and in reasonably close proximity), relying heavily on previously established characters to enhance the enjoyment of this ruthlessly efficient second outing.
A decade after he took out the Kraken, demigod Perseus is living a quiet life as a widowed fisherman, minding his own business and bringing up his young son as best as he can. Even when his father, Zeus, turns up with warnings of an impending apocalypse, Perseus is compelled to decline – it’s just not the life that he wants to live anymore. So Zeus takes drastic steps to stop the war against the Titans before it gets started, journeying into the underworld with his full-god son Ares, and his brother Poseidon, hoping to persuade other brother – the twisted Hades – to join forces with them. Instead he finds himself betrayed and left suffering a slow, protracted death as his powers are drained from him and used to awaken the monstrous uber-God Kronos. With the Titans unleashed upon the world, Perseus has no choice but to take up arms once more, and fight his way into the underworld to put an end to this war once and for all.
There’s certainly no messing around when it comes to establishing the premise of Jonathan “Battle: Los Angeles” Liebesman’s Titans sequel, which uses little more than a brief opening voiceover from Liam Neeson’s Zeus and a few seconds of catch-up between him and Worthington’s Perseus to set the stage for a series of reasonably effective action/effects sequences; scenes that seldom let the tension ease up for the movie’s suitably succinct ninety-nine-minute duration. There’s a definite sense of dread in this particular outing; of genuine consequence and perhaps even a little Greek tragedy – things distinctly missing from the first chapter of the Titans, but brought to life here as best as you could possibly expect from this kind of Sunday afternoon swords-and-sandals fantasy action-adventure.
With the already-established characters in place, the twists and turns across the narrative are considerably more interesting and involving this time around. Things do not look good for Zeus, and Neeson (The Grey, Taken 2) is just the man for the job – on much better form than first time around, or perhaps just benefitting from better material – with the image of the once-great God Zeus pinned, Crucifix-style, as his powers are drained torturously from him is very effective, imbuing Perseus’s mission with a genuine sense of urgency: his father is being tortured to death...
Talking of fathers, there are no less than three generations of father-son relationships to explore, tragedy in fused into at least two of them. Firstly, as the lava-God Kronos – the father of Zeus, Hades (the returning Ralph Fiennes, whose recent villainous roles held him in good stead for his mysterious turn in the magnificent Skyfall) and Poseidon (a woefully underused, vowel-chewing Danny Huston) – is awoken to wreak violent retribution upon his children. And secondly as the other son of Zeus, Ares (a suitably tough Edgar Ramirez, also great in Carlos The Jackal and The Bourne Ultimatum) – the God of War – finally cracks under the jealousy that haunts him: he simply cannot get past the fact that his father favours the (in his mind) inferior demigod Perseus.
Simultaneously, we also have the dysfunctional relationship between Perseus himself and Zeus; the former desperate to escape his God-like trappings, whilst the latter is desperate for him to embrace them – this itself is paralleled with the relationship between Zeus’s brother, Poseidon and Poseidon’s own rebellious son, Agenor (Prince of Persia’s Toby Kebbell), who wants nothing to do with his father, but is compelled to step up to the plate when the Titans start wreaking havoc.
Sure, the third generation of father-son relationships – Perseus and his own son – takes a distinct back-seat to the rest of these arcs, but the film isn’t exactly about strong character development; it’s just nice that they’ve at least gone to some effort to draw a few interesting character back-stories and allow them to play out over the proceedings.
Those who endured Clash of the Titans will enjoy the developments in Wrath of the Titans, and celebrate the fact that the likes of Neeson, Fiennes, Ramirez and Huston relish their parts in these relatively lightweight fantasy shenanigans, and take the material seriously so you don’t have to. Hell, even Bill Nighy pops up with another impressively different accent, playing the eccentric ex-God blacksmith who forged the Gods’ weapons of war and built the deadly Tartarus labyrinth.
Even Sam Worthington can’t really bring the piece down with his distinctly limited acting. Over the course of Avatar, Terminator: Salvation and Clash of the Titans, Worthington proved he was a fairly shallow, by-the-numbers leading action man and, whilst movies like the indie flick Texas Killing Fields, showed that he had slightly more to offer, it’s still not a huge improvement. In Wrath of the Titans, however, he does everything that is required of him, and makes for a reasonably competent hero, never really excelling in the more dramatic moments, but also far from disappointing in the way he did with Clash. It’s the subtle touches that make him more interesting – perhaps the actor has matured along with the character; perhaps the new haircut lends him some period credibility, distancing him from the crew-cut grunt look that pervaded his first three defining actioners – and it’s just enough to allow viewers to enjoy this fantasy adventure in all the ways that they couldn’t first time around.
Indeed, if I was to criticise either the characters or the acting choices, it would be with respect to Rosamund Pike’s Andromeda. The character was originally played by Alexa Davalos (The Chronicles of Riddick) in Clash of the Titans and, whilst there was little chemistry between Davalos and Worthington, there is even less chemistry between him and Pike here – and now we have the added issue of a frustrating lack of continuity to contend with. Sure, Pike (Die Another Day) is a competent action heroine; a great Andromeda – but she’s not this Perseus’s Andromeda, and their burgeoning romance is both woefully ineffective and utterly unfounded, feeling painfully crowbarred into the proceedings. Still, it’s not like this is a downgrade from Clash, which struggled just as much with its romantic elements.
When it comes to the action, Wrath of the Titans steps up to the plate both in terms of staging and delivery. The first film was a terrible 3D conversion – and example of how not to use the technology – so it was a welcome relief to many, I suspect, when the filmmakers stated that the sequel would be shot in native 3D. Imagine the surprise, then, when the director did a U-turn and announced that he had actually chosen to do another conversion, shooting on film and then converting to 3D in post-production. Although there is no denying that native 3D films beat conversions across the board, there’s also no denying that some conversions look considerably better than others and whilst films like Clash of the Titans reside at the bottom end of this spectrum, conversions like Titanic appear to be further towards the top, far closer to the quality of a natively shot 3D production.
Wrath of the Titans sits firmly in the latter category, and the director has gone on the record as stating that his decision to film and convert the second movie was based on the fact that he could get a more realistic look out of shooting on film, and he could also get decent-looking 3D by planning the movie as a 3D vehicle from the ground up. He was not wrong. Where viewers were compelled to choose the 2D version of Clash of the Titans just to endure the action sequences, here the 3D version of the film positively enhances the movie, most notably in the effects-laden moments.
In addition to this, they appear to have finally gotten the monsters right. Wasting the likes of Medusa and the Kraken first time around, you might have wondered whether there were even any decent beasties left for Perseus to battle, but Wrath of the Titans serves up a quintet of fantastic opponents, each of which proves to be a worthy challenge for our demigod hero.
We get a bunch of Cyclops giants: typically grand Cave-troll-like CG beasts who thunder around and smash things, with an elaborate series of forest traps with which to capture their prey; then there’s the famous Minotaur, who huffs like a bull before charging at Perseus relentlessly – he’s not quite as effective, but he’s undeniably tenacious; and then we get the mighty Kronos himself, a lava giant who cuts a swathe through entire legions of men. Whilst wonderfully over-the-top, rendered in impressive 3D CG, Kronos isn’t quite as imposing as you might expect, his John Wayne-style ‘punches’ are so telegraphed that you can’t help but laugh at his cumbersome, lumbering sluggishness.
Without a doubt the meanest opponents are the terrifyingly ferocious two-bodied Makhai shock troops which tear through the infantry in the final battle – whether due to their speed or deadliness, they are the only creatures that genuinely escape their CG trappings – but the first act Chimera (a two-headed flame-breathing lion/dragon/goat/snake hybrid thingy) also makes a great early impression in the movie, allowing for some fantastically gritty street-to-street combat as it tears through Perseus’s village. Of course the toughest battle is against the treacherous God of War himself, Aries – a great one-on-one fight that shows Perseus outmatched in every way, looking like he has no hope of besting his near-invincible opponent.
Seeing the Gods finally unleash their powers is also surprisingly impressive – with energy bolts that any Jedi would be envy, and ‘force’ moves that are tangibly powerful. The deaths too have a certain amount of resonance; they actually matter this time around, as the characters – particularly the Gods – slowly turn to sand and then crumble away in the wind. On several occasions it has more impact than you would think from this kind of nominally frivolous affair.
Which pretty-much sums up this sequel. It’s not a great, memorable, exceptional swords-and-sandals fantasy action-adventure; it’s not one of those films that you will truly regret having missed at the cinemas; it’s not even one of the best 3D movies of the year. However, it is a marked improvement over the original, so much so that those who dismissed it because of the curse of The Clash of the Titans should reconsider their hasty – if justified – preconceptions. Whilst it isn’t quite 300-quality, it ranks up there alongside the likes of Immortals and the Conan the Barbarian remake, not really standing out from the crowd but certainly providing more meat for the swords-and-sandals fanbase.
Watching Wrath back-to-back with Clash has the dual benefit of allowing for some decent character development across the two narratives whilst also highlighting the improvements that the second movie makes in almost every respect. But you have to go into it with suitably low expectations; you can expect it to be better than Clash of the Titans, but don’t expect it to be a very good movie – it’s just a good movie, which is, in itself, something of a surprise.