Pity poor Wrath of the Titans; arriving in theaters a week after The Hunger Games stormed the box office with its youthful heroine, stripped-down action sequences and pointed social commentary, that film makes this overproduced, underwritten F/X extravaganza look about as ancient as the Greek myths it's (very loosely) based on.
While I'm already on record as being disappointed with The Hunger Games, I'd easily choose to see that film again before watching another second of Wrath of the Titans, which manages to feel twice as long as Gary Ross's adaptation despite being a good forty minutes shorter. Deeply flawed though it may be, Games at least offers a compelling hero in Katniss and a clearly delineated three-act story with some forward momentum. Titans, on the other hand, feels like the ramblings of a hyperactive four-year-old, wildly darting from scene to scene with no narrative logic or even basic continuity. (Actually, I'm not giving enough credit to hyperactive four-year-olds -- at least their wild flights of fancy are fun to listen to.) It's a textbook example of a blockbuster sequel that was made purely for financial, rather than creative reasons. Warner Brothers looked at the big grosses racked up by its equally dumb predecessor, 2010's Clash of the Titans, checked to make sure it still had the actors under contract and the sets still in storage and then hired a new director (Jonathan Liebesman, taking over from Louis Leterrier) and writing team (Dan Mazeua and David Leslie Johnson) to put something onscreen by the announced release date of March 30, 2012. It's not unlike the way old-school B-movie icon Roger Corman used to recycle resources back in his glory days. Only Corman was both an artist and a businessman. Wrath of the Titans is all business, without a hint of art.
Okay, that's not entirely fair. The digital effects team has done a pretty spectacular job rendering the many CGI-monsters that rampage across the screen. There are towering cyclopses, three-headed, fire-breathing Chimera and, last but not least, the mightiest Titan of them all, Kronos, whom Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has unwisely decided to awaken from his slumber by capturing his estranged brother Zeus (Liam Neeson). Despite being made entirely of 1's and 0's, those creatures are far more lifelike than any of the human cast members, beginning with the film's ostensible star, Sam Worthington, reprising his role as Zeus's demi-god offspring, Perseus. As you may recall (though probably not), Perseus spent the last movie finding a way to kill the Kraken, a monstrous sea creature that Hades intended to unleash upon humanity. Along the way, he met and fell for woman warrior Io (Gemma Arterton) who, despite supposedly being immortal, was killed off and then resurrected at the last minute. In the ten year gap between Clash and Wrath, she somehow managed to die again, this time for good. Before her second demise, she gave birth to a son Helius (John Bell), who Perseus is raising as a celibate single dad in a small Grecian fishing village, far away from the battles between gods and men.
As it turns out, there are a lot of single dads and their sullen children hanging around Ancient Greece. (The extreme lack of women in the movie -- both in Olympus and on Earth -- does make you wonder how there are so many kids wandering around. Maybe these guys would be less wrathful if they had positive female role models to look up to.) For example, Zeus's other son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) is so angry about Papa's fixation on Perseus that he's thrown an epic snit fit by joining forces with Hades. And in order to free his dad, Perseus has to enlist the services of Poseidon's ne'er-do-well demi-god descendent Agenor a.k.a. The Navigator (Toby Kebbell). His other partner in this quest is the film's lone female character, Queen Andromeda, who has aged considerably -- and changed her hair color! -- since her appearance in Clash, where she was played by Alexa Davalos rather than Rosamund Pike. I probably don't need to add that she and the newly single Perseus find that their mutual interests extend beyond slaying monsters into making post-battle kissy faces.
Like almost everything else in the movie, that romance is completely half-assed. It's just another cog that the filmmakers feel obligated to include in this studio-made machine because making good-looking people kiss is just something you do in big-budget franchise pictures. Who cares that it doesn't make any sense? You can practically see Worthington and Pike shrug before that lip-lock, as if to say, "Let's just get this over with" and Liebesman himself is obviously happier shooting action than dialogue. (He's not particularly good at it though; the big set-pieces are all marred by terrible choreography and blender-chopped editing.) Naturally, Wrath of the Titans is far from the only recent movie to prioritize action over story and character. Just last week, I praised the Indonesian martial arts movie The Raid: Redemption, which packs even less plot into its 101-minute runtime. But those action sequences at least left a visceral impact on the audience; the sheer power of the characters' blows made up for the utter predictability of their words. A good action movie -- be it a low-budget affair like The Raid or a multi-million dollar extravaganza like John Carter -- lodges itself in your mind by stimulating your other muscles. The stupidity and general pointlessness of Wrath of the Titans just leaves you numb.
Find out if Sam Worthington is on Teem Peeta or Team Gale and more in this interview.
Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.
What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!