Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movie Review: Wrath of the Titans

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. 2012.

Spoilers throughout.

Three or so minutes into Wrath of the Titans I was a happy man. I was wearing my big ol' goofy IMAX 3D glasses, I had a colossal cask of Coca Cola (from which I sipped but two or three times, as usual), and I was with a good friend. On screen a Greek man and his son fished and I learned that the gods were dying because people had stopped believing in them. Now I know ye pedants and Gradgrinds were already griping by this time. (Admit it!) I, however, was thrilled about this particular point. Immediately I envisioned the situation. . .

It's the Fifth Age of the world, the Age of Iron. Men have become wicked and corrupt and worse, impious. We see Athens overrun with sophists preaching of the lies about the gods, philosophers teaching about the "physical laws," empty and decaying temples, politicians voting to use the sacred funds for their own purposes, and war among the peoples of Greece. Mankind has put down its own laws and become drunk on its newfound power and prosperity. The primeval gods are going extinct and without their power the Titans will escape from Tartarus. These primordial monstrosities will undo the work of the Olympians and men.

So we structure the series as a Tetralogy:
  1. Titanomachy: Rise of the Olympians
  2. Clash of the Immortals: The Trojan War
  3. Twilight of the Gods
  4. Roma Aeterna 
Part I depicts the overthrow of Cronos and establishes the reign of the Olympians. Part II explores the power and capriciousness of the gods. Part III looks at the birth of Western Civilization and philosophy, the death of the gods and the destruction of the Peloponnesian War. Part IV concludes with the resolution of faith and reason at Rome where the pious and diligent Romans defeat the Carthaginians.

And then the fire-breathing dog entered.

Dreams were shattered. Angels wept. Children cried in the distance. Then again it was a two-headed dog. One head spit the doggy kerosene and the other sparked it, because two-headed dogs just love flambé.  Anyway the attack is of course highly unusual because this dog usually runs a successful ceramics shop in the marketplace. I mean it is unusual because the Titans are escaping and the gods can't stop them because people stopped believing in the gods which made the gods lose their power so they need Perseus to. . . do what exactly? It took him five minutes to take down a dog and he's going to do what exactly to Cronus?

The plot at this point had a few choices: Perseus goes on a theological journey to discover the meaning of life, he goes on a proselytizing mission to remind the Greeks of their duties to the gods, or he goes to pick up a maguffin to blow up the bad guy. Guess which one it is!

So our hero needs to pay a visit to Hephasteus, but where to find him? A dying Poseidon tells Perseus to seek the Sea King's son Agenor, a demi-god like Perseus, who knows the way. Agenor has been locked up by Queen Andromeda. You see old Agenor tried to seduce the queen and when she refused, the rascal tried to run off with the crown jewels. (I laughed out loud at that clunker of a line.) Before you know it Perseus, Agenor, Andromeda and some disposable characters are off to find Hephasteus, whom they find on an island guarded by Cyclops. Now I did rather enjoy this sequence, even though it was badly shot and edited, because Agenor is actually a fun and puckish character. I don't know what precipitates his desire to become a team player in spite of his apparent dislike of his godly father, but he's funny. They should have played this scene even lighter with the Perseus and Agenor running around outwitting the Cyclops. They could have made the Cyclops Polyphemus and had the two demi-gods cracking jokes and taunting him: "Hey Polyphemus, guess who's here: no one!" "Hey Polyphemus, how's Venus doing, oh wait!" They also could have worked in a lot of plot, dialogue, and general logic resulting from the fact that Polyphemus was also a son of Poseidon. Yet I digress.

I'm going to kill my agent!
So they find Hephasteus who is more of an eclectic inventor than the smithy of the gods. Nighy does a good job, though, investing the god with a charming crankiness. Again I thought the scene, especially with the presence of Nighy, could have been pitched more comedic, "He knocked me off that bloody mountain and now he wants my help!" Poor Rosamund Pike delivers another horrendous clunker of a line and everyone's off to the underworld to rescue Zeus and combine his thunderbolt with Poseidon's trident. Before moving on, though, I have to underscore what a great job Rosamund Pike did with practically everything working against her. She looked great despite terrible camerawork, she was dignified in spite of wickedly idiotic dialogue, and she had presence onscreen even though the script gave her no significance whatsoever.

The rest of the movie is really quite lackluster. Not for a second do we think that any mortal armies stand a chance against the giant magma monster that is the freed Cronus. The burly fight between Perseus and Mars is competently executed but going in we know that Perseus has no chance based on strength alone and that he has to win. The question is of how will he do it. What happens is Perseus' son distracts Mars by walking up to him with a sword. Not attacking him mind you, but just standing there. This kind of works because it shows Perseus is superior and victorious because he is a father with a son willing to die for him, which is nice because it mirrors Perseus' quest to save his own father. On the other hand it doesn't demonstrate why Perseus is superior as a human, but rather only as a father. So here is where we see that even the movie's simple premise is not at all executed because it's point was that as a human Perseus was superior to the gods because he had virtues that could not be taken away. (That's actually my generous spin on one of the film's many wretched lines.) The plot, however, does not emphasize these or any virtues and in the end Perseus does not win on account of any one in particular. He wins on account of his son, the maguffin, and Zeus, which kind of defeats everything. There is one feeble attempt at explanation in which Andromeda says humans sometimes persevere in spite of the seeming impossibility of a task, but clearly the gods persevere also. Besides, Perseus never acknowledges or struggles with whether or not to give up.

A few items remain for discussion. The casting was very good. Worthington had the makings of the reluctant hero undertaking great burdens. He had romantic chemistry with Andromeda and a fraternal camaraderie with Agenor. Neeson was of suitable stature as the Father Zeus even if he didn't have Olivier's Olympian gravitas. The woefully underused Fines managed to give Hades a whit of pathos to his struggles with Zeus. It was, however, a blast to see the two brothers thwacking the rampaging critters as a divine tag team. This reminds me that there was some interesting potential for a parallel between Perseus and Agenor and Zeus and Hades but the script didn't even come close to weaving that thread.

I didn't find the effects or action very satisfying. It's easy enough to create big waves of rock and dust and such shots can no longer be the money shots of a film. The composited wide shots of the big  battles were brief and gave no sense of space hence the finale did not take on an epic feel. Compare it to the masterful battle outside the walled city in The Return of the King which 1) despite having four different armies attacking from different directions established and maintained a crystal clear sense of who and what was where, and 2) despite having a great variety of sets, places, and characters/monsters, establishes and maintains a perfect scale to tell us how big everything is. Speaking of incomprehensible, it was frequently impossible to tell how the action scenes resolved. For example, in the labyrinth leading to the underworld the characters are stuck between two walls pressing them. They push and push and then suddenly we see them all tumble out. What happened? The fully CGI shots of the underworld and the labyrinth were very nicely done, however. There was a logic to the design of the structures and a proper sense of magnitude. The best 3D effect of the film is Zeus' flight through the ancient crags down to the domain of Hades.

Overall, the appalling poverty of the script is the downfall of Wrath. These are rich and timeless tales and to turn them into something so insubstantial reeks of worse than a cheap cash-in, but complete indifference to the stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment