Friday, March 30, 2012

Wrath of the Titans

Review by Pete Roche

A decade has passed since Perseus (Sam Worthington) rescued Princess Andromeda from the clutches of the dreaded Kraken and saved Argos from an incipient CLASH OF THE TITANS.  Now he’s got longer hair, a son, and a modest fishing business along the coast.  He’s not interested in doing the Hercules thing anymore and would rather be the Dad than pummel pillars in more petty squabbles with steroid-steeled scorpions and hormonal gorgons. 

Ah, but this demigod (like most, one supposes) hails from a broken home.  Perseus' Father Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Uncle Poseidon (Danny Huston) are losing power because humans—emboldened by Perseus’ heroic deeds—won’t worship them anymore.  A third Olympian uncle, the banished Hades (Ralph Fiennes), summons Zeus’ other son, vengeful Ares (Edgar Ramirez) to Tartarus to help awaken their lumbering, lava-based patriarch the titan Kronos, imprisoned in the underworld by Zeus eons ago.  Seems the young war god also has a bone to pick with stepbrother Perseus, who after the events of the first film only solidified his status as Zeus’ favorite. 
So yeah, it's the most dysfunctional film family since the Skywalkers.  And that’s just the boys.

Anticipating his abduction, Zeus visits Perseus in a dream and gives one of those canned Ben Parker  “with great power comes great responsibility” lectures.  Perseus wavers.  But if he's unwilling to abandon his quiet life to help out dear ol’ Dad, he’d damn well better do it for his son, Helios—lest grand-pappy Kronos erupt from the depths and unleash Hell on Earth.  Literally.  Then the kid won’t be able to finish school with the token wise woman from the village.  He'll have to fast-track it, settling for the ancient Grecian equivalent of a GED.  Bummer.

“Is it heavy?” Perseus asks, letting the boy heft his mystical sword.

The weight he refers to, of course, is his own sense of duty.  He lives among mortals despite his heavenly heritage and is regaled in the streets like the local kid who became a rock star and retired early.  High-five, Percy! 

WRATH follows the formula laid by its 2010 predecessor (itself a remake of the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion classic starring Harry Hamlin).  Our stalwart protagonist sets upon a quest through treacherous lands, battling seemingly unstoppable foes, in search of magic weapons to defeat the titans—whose number includes a two-headed, fire-breathing dog.  Oh, and he’s got to rescue Papa Zeus.  From Hell.   It’s gonna be one of those days.

He should have kept Medusa’s head on ice.

Joining Perseus on his new mission are Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), the princess turned warrior queen, and Agenor (Toby Kebbell) — Poseidon’s half-human son, a once-proud navigator who’s turned to stealing since his father’s banishment.   Prodigal uncle Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) confides that conjoining Zeus’ thunderbolt, Poseidon’s trident, and Hades’ pitchfork will produce the Spear of Dreams—the last word in Titan-toppling accessories.  But Heff isn’t too lucid these days; the heavenly metalworker is now a hermit living in self-imposed exile on an island patrolled by the Cyclops.  He passes time reenacting scenes from CAST AWAY, with himself doing the Tom Hanks bit and a familiar metal bird playing his silent Wilson

Taking the reins from CLASH helmsman Louis Leterrier (TRANSPORTER), South African director Jonathan Liebesman doesn’t miss a beat.  WRATH, the follow-up to a reboot of the 1981 Desmond Davis classic featuring Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion genius, is a needless sequel, but it’s a guilty pleasure to watch the calamities portended in said first installment spring to life (or plummet from the skies like meteors) and wreak havoc.  The CG beasties are convincingly ferocious and their mayhem is violent—but not too gruesome for youngsters.  However, some of the combat footage is so unsteady we sometimes aren’t even sure what Perseus is fighting until he’s killed it.  One set piece involving a gigantic labyrinth is fascinating (a similar concept was utlized in 2004's AVP); the heroes must maneuver through the monolithic maze, with the walls and tunnels shifting around them like pieces in a rocky Rubik’s puzzle.  WRATH's climax is lively but triggers an overwhelming déjà vu, coming off like a landlocked reprise of the Kraken sequence from CLASH.  Perseus again confronts a towering adversary astride the winged Pegasus—only now they’re dodging magma instead of seawater—and Andromeda cheerleads from the ground.      

SCHINDLER’S LIST stars Neeson and Fiennes are better than this, but damn if the bearded brothers don’t spark onscreen together, the former quipping “Let’s have some fun,” while flinging energy bolts at fiery four-armed invaders.  Neeson—who played Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn in STAR WARS—EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE—even force-pushes a handful of hellions out of harm’s way.  Ramirez (who chomped scenery as the titular terrorist in CARLOS) is a convincing heavy—but pretty ex-Bond girl Pike’s Andromeda isn’t provided any pivotal moments.  Kebbell is the film’s comic relief, his repentant thief providing an emotional connect for the audience despite his celestial lineage.  But it’s Worthington who shoulders most of the action. The 35 year-old Aussie turned in similarly physical performances in TERMINATOR: SALVATION and AVATAR, emerges from WRATH covered in another gleaming mask of perspiration, blood, and soot—but now he’s got the confidence of a marquee hero.  He’s been Macbeth, battled robots from the future, and assumed the corporal husk of a ten-foot tall blue alien.  WRATH is sizzling with Sammy, whose Danaan deity likewise sallies forth with the cockiness of someone who’s seen it all before.

“What are you waiting for?” Perseus goads one monster who gains the upper hand…er, paw.  “Burn me!” 

2 ½ out of 4 stars.   

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