Ray Harryhausen would be disappointed (perhaps, even wrathful?) ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ray Harryhausen would be disappointed (perhaps, even wrathful?)

Wrath of the Titans
My rating:

I do believe this is a rarity; a sequel to a remake of an older film that never had a sequel. Which is somewhat trickier to pull off than rebooting an older series of movies, e.g. horror franchise reboots such as 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Hollywood version of The Grudge. Of course, every major studio release these days hopes to be a franchise-starter, including remakes, but the only successful one in recent memory is Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. (Is anyone still waiting for a sequel to the 2003 version of The Italian Job that's supposed to be titled The Brazilian Job?) So Wrath of the Titans joins that rarefied company, and in so doing presents an intriguing prospect - it's as if it were a sequel to the original 1981 Clash of the Titans, as well as its own 2010 predecessor.

Too bad it's not one that could do justice to either.

Ten years after defeating the Kraken, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is now a simple fisherman and widowed father to his son Helius (John Bell). The Greek gods, ruled by his father Zeus (Liam Neeson), have grown weaker due to fewer mortals worshiping them - and this in turn has weakened the walls of Tartarus, the underground prison where the Titan Kronos has been held for centuries. When Zeus' brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the underworld, and his son Ares (Édgar Ramírez), god of war, betray him to drain his power and free Kronos, Perseus is compelled to undertake the quest to save his father and prevent Kronos from destroying the world. He is aided by Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) the princess-turned-queen whom he once rescued, as well as Agenor (Toby Kebbell), another half-god-half-mortal son of Poseidon (Danny Huston). And he must seek the help of the "Fallen One" - Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), a former god himself and the divine craftsman who forged the weapons of the gods.

My 3-½ star review of Clash of the Titans 2010 is probably not one of my more popular opinions; the movie scored 29% on RottenTomatoes, and even the usual gang of idiots on Lowyat.net were disappointed. I know I liked it because I wrote so, and what I wrote was that it satisfied my sword-and-sorcery jones like no other movie in recent years. But two years later, I find that I can barely remember a thing about it. (Which should be just about right for a 3-½ star rating, i.e. good but not particularly memorably so.) Wrath of the Titans is disappointing enough that it reflects badly on its predecessor. Now I know there's a completely new director and team of screenwriters behind it, and if Louis Leterrier had come back for the sequel, we might've gotten a better movie. Still, after coming out of this one, I can't help thinking I had overrated the previous one.

I am unfamiliar with the works of screenwriters Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson, but the screenplay that's credited to them here features some of the most howlingly on-the-nose dialogue I'll probably hear all year. F'rinstance, Zeus, Hades and Ares pay a visit to Tartarus, the prison for Titans that they built to house Kronos, and when they arrive one of them says something like, "Tartarus, the great prison where the Titan Kronos is imprisoned." Wow, wasn't that helpful? I say this on a blog, short for "web log", which is published on the internet, the great information superhighway that everyone can access. The movie is full of dialogue like this, and it's never not funny each time. And by "funny" I mean embarrassingly bad.

In my review of Clash, I said I liked it because it was fun. I believe the lack of fun is the main flaw of this one; there's an all-too-sombre tone throughout that's just impossible to take seriously given the terrible dialogue. But frankly, it's not just the dialogue. Jonathan Liebesman's direction is terrible. Nothing that's not an action scene works in this movie - not the characters, not the plot, not the human emotions, not the pacing, and not even the acting. Sam Worthington is no better than before, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes look honestly embarrassed to be here, Toby Kebbell continues his streak of forgettable supporting roles in mediocre fantasy movies, Édgar Ramírez is downright terrible, and even Rosamund Pike - one of the hotter recent Bond girls - is bad in exactly the way a committed actor working under poor direction is bad. There are attempts at a subtext of family drama, what with Zeus and Hades being brothers, Kronos being their father, Ares and Perseus being half-brothers, and the former being jealous of the latter while betraying their father, all of which come across as muddled and laughably convoluted. Almost everything in this movie simply does not work.

The sole exception being the special effects, which earns it its half-star. It won't spoil anything to say that Kronos, when freed, turns out to be a thousand-foot-tall giant lava monster (because that's him in the poster, after all), and he's a pretty damn good-looking thousand-foot-tall giant lava monster. The climactic battle against him is the movie's biggest saving grace; he looks gloriously, spectacularly real, insomuch as a thousand-foot-tall giant lava monster can look "real". Oh, and the underground labyrinth leading to Tartarus, a maze of constantly-shifting giant stone block and walls that our heroes have to traverse, is also a neat bit of production design. On the whole, the SFX team are the only guys on the crew that earn their paychecks; the various CGI creatures look great. It's a pity that, with the exception of the thousand-foot-ta Kronos scene, every other monster fight is lackluster and unthrilling - and yes, unfun.

But what's perhaps most galling is that the original 1981 Clash was a labour of love for Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects pioneer who invented the stop-motion process. It was the last film he worked on, and each of the creatures in that film - from Calibos to the Kraken - bore the mark of a man who truly loved weird critters, designing them and bringing them to life onscreen. And now, this sequel to its remake treats them as obligatory CGI effects with none of the personality and charm of Harryhausen's creations; even if Wrath's visual effects team channeled some of Harryhausen's passion into their work, Liebesman's asinine direction undoes all of it. James Berardinelli had it right; this is what Lord of the Rings would look like if it were directed by Michael Bay. Which probably makes my 2-½-star rating consistent with what I think of Bay, but to be honest, I'm already wondering if I'm giving it too much credit.

NEXT REVIEW: Mirror Mirror
Expectations: round one in the Battle of the Snow Whites