Friday, March 30, 2012

In Theaters: WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)

(Spain/US - 2012)

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.  Written by Dan Mazeau & David Leslie Johnson.  Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston, Sinead Cusack, John Bell.  (PG-13, 100 mins)

This sequel to 2010's remake of the beloved 1981 classic is noteworthy only in how quickly it manages to completely evaporate from your memory by the time you exit the theater.  Walking to my car, I had a distinct Leonard Shelby moment when I realized "I'm in this parking garage.  Why?  Am I arriving somewhere?  Am I leaving?"  Fumbling through my pockets, I discovered a ticket stub that seemed to indicate that I'd used a gift card to be granted admission to something called WRATH OF THE TITANS approximately two hours earlier.  And yet...I had no memory of this experience.

"Wait...you mean when I'm done here,
I'm moving on to BATTLESHIP?"
Yeah, it's that kind of movie.  A perfectly harmless, inoffensive time-killer that has no real reason to be, other than easy paychecks for an overqualified cast.  Demigod hero Perseus (Sam Worthington), now living a quiet life as a widower with young son Helius (John Bell), gets pulled back into the gods and titans business when his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) is duped and held captive by his own scheming brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and other son, Perseus' half-brother Ares (Edgar Ramirez) as a plan to appease the enraged Kronos, Zeus' and Hades' father who was deposed by his sons long ago.  People have stopped praying to the gods, and as a result, they're losing their power to control Kronos and the other Titans imprisoned in Tartarus, the netherworld underneath Hades' realm.  Teaming up with Agenor the Navigator (Toby Kebbell), demigod son of Poseidon (Danny Huston), as well as Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), cranky mapmaker Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), and of course, Pegasus, Perseus must...defeat evil.  Or whatever.  Along the way, the filmmakers hit all the required marks:  battle scenes straight out of 300, a shot of the heroes on their journey, walking single file along a mountain while the camera swirls around them and the music swells, and, of course, a character entering a battle from high in the sky, landing on one knee, then ominously looking up from that crouched position.

Ralph Fiennes, struggling to stay awake as Hades
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2010 CLASH OF THE TITANS (I didn't bother seeing it in converted 3D, which reportedly looked awful; I didn't see this in 3D, either).  It was silly, but it was fast-moving, well-directed by Luc Besson protege Louis Leterrier, and filled with endlessly entertaining scenery-chewing by Neeson and Fiennes.  WRATH, on the other hand, just feels like everyone's punching a clock.  Leterrier is out, replaced by Michael Bay flunky Jonathan Liebesman, director of last year's BATTLE: LOS ANGELES and one of the Bay-produced TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE entries from a few years ago.  Leterrier knows how to stage an action sequence, while Liebesman is from the "point the camera and shake it around to look busy" school.  Liebesman and the writers (Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson) are so disengaged that they can't even bother to think up a new iconic "Release the Kraken!"-esque catchphrase for Neeson.  Fiennes just looks bored, and really dials back his hissingly hammy Hades from the way he played the same role in CLASH.  Fiennes, like Neeson, Nighy, and briefly, Huston, are just doing the bare minimum to get the job done and instead letting the CGI technicians work their magic.

Sam Worthzzzzzzzz
It might work better if it had a more engaging hero.  How much longer is Hollywood going to try to convince us that Sam Worthington is a movie star?  Yeah, he was in AVATAR, but nobody went to see it because of him.  Nobody saw CLASH because of him. THE DEBT did well, but it was more of an ensemble piece.  And nobody saw TEXAS KILLING FIELDS or MAN ON A LEDGE period.  Worthington was pretty open in his disdain of CLASH, and it's obvious in his bland line readings and annoyed looks that he's in this out of a contractual obligation rather than any inherent desire to further the TITANS saga.  Except for the multitudes of visual effects teams, everyone associated with this feels like they're there because they can't get out of it.  The actors are almost an afterthought.  As uninterested as they all are, they should've just CGI'd them as well.  Neeson, Fiennes, and Nighy are great actors.  I don't blame them for wanting a fat payday, but can they at least pretend they give a shit?  Or did they save that for the press junket?

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