Monday, 2 April 2012

Wrath of the Titans (dir. Jonathan Liebesman, 2012)


Aslan vs Voldemort, Volume II. Titans Will Be Wrathy!

Here's some good news for a start - Cronos is a Titan, so there is an actual Titan in this movie. He doesn't Clash with anyone, but he does look pretty Wrathful, so unlike its predecessor, this film actually does do what it says on the tin. Many major spoilers for the film follow.

By killing off Io before the beginning (I thought she was immortal?) this film restores Perseus to his mythological love interest, Andromeda (though it's a fairly abbreviated love story, one kiss and a few longing looks is all there is to it). That's pretty much where its resemblance to actual Greek mythology ends. I could live with that more happily if it wasn't for the fact that, apart from one easily killed redshirt, Andromeda is the only major character who is female. At the beginning, when Zeus calls all the gods together, 'all the gods' consists of himself, Poseidon, Ares and Hades. No Athena, no Artemis, no Aphrodite. Without them, Andromeda is forced to take on aspects of all three (she leads armies - Athena - she uses a bow and arrow - Artemis, debateably - and when they eventually dig up Hephaestus, he says she reminds him of Aphrodite. I guess being very pretty and wearing impractical earrings into battle covers that one). Change mythology all you want, but don't take away my goddesses!

As for the rest, I've realised I'm going to have to stop whining about Troy killing off Menelaus because within 20 minutes, this film kills off Poseidon. Yes, the god. Yes, the being whose one defining feature in mythology, aside from superpowers, is immortality. That's where all the other gods have disappeared to - they've been killed. By the end, only Hades is left, and he doesn't have any power (what a statement about the universe! only the god of the underworld remains standing...).

I think, buried somewhere in here, is a really quite interesting story about the death of the old gods, something almost worthy of JG Frazer or Pasolini. Our heroes, as usual, refuse to worship the gods and by the end the world belongs to the humans, with all the gods gone, so there's literally nothing left to pray to anyway. Humanity has grown beyond gods and no longer needs them. Unfortunately, the (several) writers of Wrath of the Titans have neither the intelligence nor the logic of Frazer or Pasolini and can't quite pull this off (I was going to say 'subtlety', but to fair, Frazer's The Golden Bough and Pasolini's Medea are about as subtle in their 'religion belongs to the childhood of humanity' theme as being hit over the head with a cricket bat).

In this film, what could have been a very interesting reflection on the place of religion and the gods becomes a total nonsense that I'm sure the lead characters could have solved in the first five minutes. See, Zeus and the others are losing their power because people aren't praying to them any more, right? And the army want to pray to Ares, but they mustn't do that, because Ares has gone over to the Dark Side and wants to release Cronos - OK, fine. So why don't our heroes just tell the army to all pray to Zeus? Wouldn't that restore his power so he could defeat Cronos? Worth a try anyway, surely? But no one ever attempts this. Perseus (who appears to be the only half-human offspring of Zeus around - did Ares or already-dead-Hera kill all the others?) just insists, repeatedly, that no one should ever pray to any gods (also that 'there are no good gods', which is broadly true in this story, but a bit of an over-simplification). Terry Pratchett can pull off the delicate balance required to depict atheist or non-religious characters in a world where the gods are blatantly present and powerful (or, occasionally, reduced to the form of a tortoise, which is what I wanted to see happen to Zeus here) but again, these writers can't.

Oh look! A Balrog.

While we're on the subject of writing, this film contains quite possibly the worst dialogue I've ever heard. Yes, worse than Star Wars. In fact, one of the slightly more memorable lines is nicked right out of Star Wars ('I love you', 'I know', except it's a father and son saying it). Several times you could feel how desperate the writers were to say 'with great power comes great responsibility', but since they don't want to be sued, they settle for something about 'duty' instead. They do manage to incorporate some nice touches of humour, particularly through Agenor and especially Hephaestus, but beyond the jokes, the characters are flat and they say almost nothing beyond explaining the plot and reacting in a desperately obvious way to big monsters and so on. I couldn't tell you a thing about Perseus or Andromeda's personalities based on this film, other than that they both fight quite a bit and would prefer not to die.

Given this situation, the mostly stellar cast react in various ways. I'm not sure what their instructions from their director were, but based on the fact everyone's been allowed to keep their own accents, regardless of origin (so Perseus is Antipodean, he has an English son, Zeus has a distinctly Ulster twang and so on) I'm going to assume he pretty much stuck a camera on them and had them read the lines. As a result, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes simply do Aslan and Voldemort. Neeson is strung up in Christ-like pose for half the film, so he's largely immobile, and he just goes for it. Full on Aslan. Fiennes has an equally flowy robe to swirl and instead of snake-like head movements, he has long snake-like hair to swish around, and out comes Voldemort. This is actually quite fun for a while, but then Hades does a heel face turn halfway through and suddenly Aslan and Voldemort are working together and repeating the word 'brother' umpteen times in case we've forgotten their relationship, and it all gets a bit weird.

In acting terms, Rosamund Pike and Bill Nighy are the stand-outs. Pike really goes for it. With very little meaningful dialogue and a blank character, she does as much as anyone could to bring Andromeda to life - particularly in her early scenes with Perseus in which she makes her feelings for him clear (though goodness knows what she finds so attractive in him). Nighy seems to have fallen straight out of a Monty Python film. He's the only cast member who puts on an accent (it sounds like Micheal Palin's Yorkshire accent to me) and he plays Hephaestus as a mad old coot living alone and talking to the fabulous mechanical owl from the 1981 Clash of the Titans. These are, naturally, the best parts of the film. He has a whole, hilarious, monologue about seducing mermaids that is allowed to go on as our heroes walk away and that I can't help feeling he must have improvised because it's so much better than any of the other dialogue in the film.

Everyone else more or less does what they can with the script. Toby Kebbell as Agenor is quite good, and Sam Worthington is Sam Worthington (I'll defend Keanu Reeves to my dying day, but I can't get worked up about Sam Worthington I'm afraid). The director, meanwhile, seems to have put all his energy into filming the various fight sequences as if he was working on Saving Private Ryan. He's obsessed with shaky handheld camera shots, extreme close-ups, clashing battle sounds and even that thing where you reduce the sound for a few minutes to mimic the effect of an explosion on our hero's eardrums. Except there aren't any explosions in this (except a volcano - they've seen Lord of the Rings as well as Star Wars) because it's set in ancient Greece. I wouldn't mind seeing some of these techniques, designed to make battle scenes feel 'realistic', in Return of the King or something like that - a fantasy film that's really earned the right to use them by making you believe in the created world and its characters, preferably over several hours. Game of Thrones could get away with it, if they could afford it on a TV budget. But Wrath of the Titans cannot. With cardboard characters pitched against daft monsters, it just looks silly, bordering on disrespectful to actual war films.

Rosamund Pike is actually pretty awesome in this, and almost makes up for the total lack of any other major female characters.

Essentially, this is a film where the director gets to play with battle sequences of different kinds for an hour and a half. There's no characterisation, the plot makes no sense and the one bit that looked like it might be really interesting was wasted. (For a moment, it looked like we might see our heroes taunted and teased by their dead comrades in the underworld, which would have been really cool, but instead Perseus has to run through a series of clashing walls for a while and fight a monster in a sequence that looks like it was taken straight from a Super Mario game). There is some humour and I laughed a few times, so if you enjoy watching CG heroes fight CG monsters and cracking the odd joke, you'll enjoy this film. Otherwise, it's probably not for you!

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9 comments:

  1. Excellent review! I saw it myself and reviewed it in my blog... in retrospect, I was a bit more charitable!

    Hated Sam Worthington in the lead, but then he's Sam Worthington... not much at all to work with there.

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  2. When my grandson saw the trailer for Wrath Of The Titans (screened with John Carter) I asked him if he wanted to see the film. "No.," he replied. "Too wrarthy." Given the tenor of your review I think that sums it up quite nicely.

    As for Keanu Reeves .... He is, even now, filming yet another new version of the Japanese classic, The 47 Ronin Story. Though a central event in Japanese history, this new version is a fantasy take on the story, with witches, monsters and a gaijin playing Japanese. All in 3D of course. I will be most interested in reading your defense of Keanu after this film.

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  3. My love for Keanu will never die! He'd have to turn into Mel Gibson or something to stop me liking him.

    I think the review probably comes across harsher than I really felt, in a way - this film is good fun, just as long as you're not looking for dialogue, characterisation, subtlety or a plot that makes sense...

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  4. Thanks for re-inforcing my intention to NOT see this film! :p

    But otherwise really interesting review! :o)

    (but seriously: NO GODESSES???)

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  5. No goddesses is like Troy with no Cassandra -- what's the point.

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  6. I know! I don't mind all-male stories if the setting is WW1 or something and there just wouldn't be any women - but not a single goddess in the Greek pantheon?! That's just ridiculous.

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  7. If they make another one, Perseus is going to have to borrow the hydra or the Nemean Lion from the Hercules myths....

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  8. Thanks for this witty recap which I'm sure is about a bazillion times better than the film, which I now do not have to see!

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  9. Thank you! :) It was sort of silly fun, but the dialogue was really driving me up the wall by the end!

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