A man with no personality embarks on a quest to save a bunch of douchebags in Wrath of the Titans by Jonathan Liebesman, the sequel no one particularly asked for to the remake no one particularly wanted. With brilliant CGI, a fine cast of veteran actors, and an absolutely wretched screenplay, Wrath perfectly embodies all of contemporary Hollywood in one film. This film is neither good nor terrible, just aggressively mediocre. All spectacle and no heart.
As the film begins, Zeus informs Perseus that the gods are dying. They subsist on the prayers of mortals, but mortals don’t seem to believe in them anymore. That’s bad news for Zeus and crew, because their weakening power not only jeopardizes their existence but has weakened their control over the captive titan Cronos. No one bothers to establish whether Cronos is evil or even that his escape is necessarily a bad thing for humanity, but he’s a screeching volcano monster, so I guess there’s that.
But right there from the very start, the screenplay’s already tumbled into a massive plot hole. If the gods are dying because people don’t believe in them anymore, how in Hades are the Titans getting stronger? The Titans are nothing more than really old gods. By the logic of this screenplay, it stands to reason that old Cronos should be just as endangered as his progeny. And let’s be honest, is it really such a bad thing that the gods are dying? The Greek gods are major douchebags anyway. You’d think the protagonists would be happy enough without the constant meddling of the immortals.
The story never improves or becomes any more logical as the movie progresses. To compare the story of Wrath of the Titans to storytelling in videogames would be an insult to contemporary videogames. No, Wrath is very much confined to the old 8-bit world in terms of depth and complexity. The plot unfolds in the following way: someone tells Perseus that he needs to find a person or an weapon, he dutifully sets out to find that person or weapon, he fights some monsters or solves a puzzle, and then he acquires the person or object. Along the way, stupid faceless red shirts get massacred by exotic monsters. No character development or humor or anything of that nature. Just exposition followed by a straightforward fetch quest; like one of the throwaway side quests in Skyrim.
Jonathan Liebesman has the thankless task of bringing this mess of a script to life, and to his credit, he comes pretty close to pulling it off. After seeing this movie, I have a little more faith him directing Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, that movie is still going to suck, but at least it won’t suck because the action scenes are unwatchable or because the special effects are awful. It’ll just suck because everything Platinum Dunes touches turns to shit. Like a reverse Midas.
Liebesman previously directed Battle Los Angeles, a movie that had such poorly framed, incomprehensible action sequences that I felt like I needed a Dramamine just to survive the first hour. He’s improved as a a director of action since then. He really resists going handheld here and actually indulges in a couple of extended tracking shots during some crucial action sequences. A couple of inventive fights have Perseus dispatching a two headed Chimera with his trusty blade: One head of the creature vomits flammable liquid and the other head ignites it. Another sequence literally has Perseus riding Pegasus right into the mouth of Cronos like Lando Calrissian riding the Millenium Falcon into the Second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi. That was awesome.
Liebesman has also assembled a fine cast that has been given absolutely nothing to do. I remain convinced that Sam Worthington is actually a great actor and that he’s actually going to be given a chance to act one day. He didn’t get that opportunity in Avatar and he doesn’t get that opportunity here, but he’s serviceable. The rest of the cast includes Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Toby Kebbell, and the always terrific Liam Neeson. Kebbell as the scoundrel Agenor and Bill Nighy as an insane Hephaestus stand out as they desperately try to infuse the movie with much needed humor and charisma.
No amount of talent or charisma, however, could overcome this soulless by-the-numbers screenplay. As I watched Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes navigate the turgid dialogue they were given in one particular scene, I gained even more respect them. Most importantly, I appreciated their ability to effortlessly treat B-movie writing with the same gravitas they treat Shakespeare.
I understand why the cast signed on to this movie. A paycheck for starring in Wrath of the Titans could probably fund a couple of projects like Ralph Fiennes’ film adaptation of Coriolanus. But this material still doesn’t deserve their talents. The characters are too monodimensional and the plot is too cut-and-paste. At one point in the movie, Perseus tells his son, “There’s more to life than gods and Titans.” It’s a shame the writers didn’t comprehend their character’s own statement.