Wrath of the Titans

Monday 13th January 2014

I hadn’t been expecting a lot from the remake of the 1981 classic Clash of the Titans, but surely we deserved more than the blurry mess that was served up by director Louis Leterrier. Even with Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes involved the film ended being a pretty mundane affair. The only moments that stand out in my memory are the fight with Medusa and the bit where they ride the giant scorpions… and both of those scenes felt like they would have been visually impressive if only they hadn’t been poorly converted into 3D. And then there was Hollywood’s latest go-to-guy for action, Sam Worthington, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. Worthington is a competent enough actor but lacks the charisma to pull off the role of Perseus; instead of a reluctant demigod embracing his human side to accomplish feats of great heroism, Worthington comes across more like a reluctant human who isn’t really bothered. Nothing against the guy, but there isn’t really anything God-like about him. He doesn’t have the physique, looks or personality I would imagine a demigod should possess. Just look at Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the demigod Achilles in Troy, or even Harry Hamlin as Perseus in the original Clash of the Titans.

Despite the apparent unpopularity of the remake it still managed to spawn a sequel; Wrath of the Titans. And I’m quite pleased it did because the sequel, directed by some guy named Jonathan Liebesman, is a vast improvement over the first. Worthington is still present as the most ordinary demigod you’ve ever seen, and he seems to have become more intensely Australian since last time which is a bit distracting. Neeson returns as Zeus and thankfully has a lot more to do this time around, although he’s also a lot less godly as I’ll explain shortly. Fiennes reprises his role as Hades but I felt the script writers did him a bit of an injustice by giving him the least steely resolve in history. Rosamund Pike joins the gang as Queen Andromeda and does a pretty decent job of running away from a Cyclops in a queenly fashion… The only actor I wasn’t convinced by (apart from Worthington) was Edgar Ramirez who plays Ares, the god of war. Ramirez’ accent seemed to come and go so at times I found myself debating whether he was South American, French or Cockney (I looked him up, he’s from Venezuela). Aside from the distracting accent he just wasn’t angry or beastly enough to play the god of war. It may have been a character flaw as he had this brotherly jealousy thing going on with Perseus which made him look like a spoilt brat – not particularly war-like, or god-like.

The film itself was enjoyable enough and had all the elements of a swords and sandals epic except the long running time. The action comes thick and fast, the monsters are very imposing and the dialogue isn’t awful (although in places it’s quite bad).

To quickly summarise the story, Perseus is living a simple life as a fisherman with his young son Helius, when Zeus pops along to tell him that the gods are losing their power because people no longer worship them. Perseus isn’t really all that bothered, so Zeus tells him that the gods can no longer maintain the walls of Tartarus, the prison they built to incarcerate Zeus’ father Cronos for the rest of time. Again Perseus doesn’t really care all that much, so Zeus tells him that Cronos wasn’t a very nice chap and being imprisoned by his own kids for several millennia probably hasn’t done a lot to improve his temperament; in fact, if Cronos escapes he’ll probably destroy the entire world. Perseus takes this all on board… and decides to stay at home and catch fish with his son. After all, Zeus has Poseidon and Ares and… oh wait, none of the other gods showed up… bummer. Anyway, Perseus figures the beardy men have it under control, what do they need him for? He doesn’t even have a beard. So Zeus, Poseidon and Ares set off to the underworld to try and persuade Zeus’ evil brother Hades to give them a hand with some renovations on Cronos’ prison.

Obviously it all goes wrong and Perseus has to hatch a half-arsed plan to save the day. He recruits Andromeda and his demigod cousin Agenor to give him a hand and they set off to Hades. And obviously their half-arsed plan also goes tits up.

The problem with both plans turns out to be some dodgy writing which has Ares changing sides to ally with Hades and set Cronos free. Their idea is that Cronos will then kill Zeus… the obvious flaw in this plan is that the two morons have Zeus chained up and could probably just kill him themselves. And also, if they free Cronos it seems pretty clear that he’ll kill everyone including them. But, dismissing these small inconsistencies, Perseus and co. team up with schizophrenic Bill Nighy, after he asks his clockwork owl for permission. Nighy shows them a secret way into the underworld through a moving labyrinth which he designed to be impregnable to anyone but himself. Nighy is kind enough to give the intrepid gang his precious map to see them through the impenetrable shifting maze but Agenor soon declares the map useless and chucks it away… so it seems Perseus and chums are doomed to wander aimlessly through the labyrinth until they starve to death. Perseus then stumbles across the Minotaur, apparently on holiday from Crete. They have a little fight and Perseus kills the beast without too much trouble. Whether this incident takes place before or after the Minotaur was killed by Theseus in Greek mythology is up for debate… then in a marvelous stroke of luck Perseus and his buddies turn a corner and find the exit from the impossible labyrinth. Either they are the jammiest adventurers ever or Bill Nighy was seriously overselling the intricate design of his labyrinth.

I won’t go too deeply into the mechanics of the story, mainly because there isn’t much more to tell. Hades changes his mind several times until you no longer really care what he does. Zeus is inevitably freed and regains enough of his power to have a crack at Cronos who has broken free. Perseus then kills Cronos, bizarrely by flying into Cronos’ mouth on his winged horse, Pegasus, and stabbing him in the fiery intestines with a magic spear. Why he couldn’t just stab him in the ankle or even the eye from the relative safety of the outside world, I guess we’ll never know... The best part about Cronos’ death is that Cronos is the father of Zeus, and Zeus is the father of Perseus, so Perseus effectively becomes the first and only man in recorded history to be celebrated as a hero for murdering his own granddad.

The biggest problem I had with the plot was that Zeus explains he is losing the power to contain Cronos because humans no longer worship him; Perseus explains this to Queen Andromeda who has a vast army of men at her command… why don’t they just get the whole army to pray to Zeus?  Then he’ll get his powers back and can shove Cronos back in his box... There were a few other little inconsistencies such as the army’s decision to fight Cronos’ little demon buddies with flaming catapults. These guys have just escaped from Hell, fire might not be the most effective weapon against them… especially as they also appear to be made mostly out of lava. Aside from these little quibbles I did enjoy the film as a visual spectacle. There are several scenes, particularly the final battle against Cronos, which feel huge enough to do the title Wrath of the Titans justice. There are some incredible graphics on display, especially if you’re watching the film on Blu-Ray. If you’re in the mood to watch a big, action-packed blockbuster and you’re not too bothered about the quality of the script I would recommend this. If you’re looking for something that deals with Greek mythology intelligently and faithfully you’d be better off watching Ray Harryhausen’s masterful 1963 retelling of Jason and the Argonauts.

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