Sam Worthington as Perseus
Liam Neeson as Zeus
Ralph Fiennes as Hades
Édgar Ramírez as Ares
Toby Kebbell as Agenor
Rosamund Pike as Andromeda
Bill Nighy as Hephaestus
Danny Hustonas Poseidon
John Bell as Heleus
Lily James as Korrina
Alejandro Naranjo as Mantius
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
The argument against remakes has always been that they are symptomatic of a lack of imagination. That they try to recapture audience enthusiasm by reminding them what they liked about the original, and usually not straying to far from that zone, limiting what the new effort can do. The same can be said for sequels as well, so a sequel of a remake has a long uphill trudge to look forward to. Carrying a boulder. A boulder that’s just going to roll down hill once it reaches the top of that hill.
But just because that’s the conventional wisdom doesn’t mean it should be taken as read. Any filmmaker of sufficient imagination can and will get around those problems, tapering the natural retread of the sequel/remake with some of out-of-the-box plot developments that will fulfill that eternal audience mandate of ‘the same but different.’
Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”) hasn’t quite managed that in “Wrath of the Titans,” the sequel to 2010’s remake of the old 80’s Ray Harryhausen epic, but he and his screenwriters have at least tried to put some thought into what they’re about, and there’s something to be said for effort at least.
Most of the effort, intelligently, is applied to the older, wiser Perseus (Sam Worthington). We join him ten years after the events of “Clash of the Titans” living the quiet life of a fisherman and trying to raise his son Helius (John Bell) and with no desire to return to a life of adventure. What he wants isn’t going to matter much, however, once his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) is captured by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Édgar Ramírez) in a plot to free Zeus’ own father, the destructive titan Chronos. In order to protect his own son, Perseus straps on his old armor and is soon riding his flying horse over a landscape more barren and devastated than the Greek economy, looking for a fight.
Just in case you didn’t catch it in the summary there is a tremendous amount of father-son themery going on in “Wrath of the Titans,” which is actually a tremendously good idea, adding emotional heft and weight to the cosmic goings on by bringing the gods down to a human level the way the old stories did. Like Renoir said, ‘everyone has their reasons’ and “Wrath” at least tries to make you aware of them and understand that even the bad guys aren’t completely evil and worse, they got where they did with the help of the ‘good’ guys. Ares just wants his father’s love; Hades just wants out of Tartarus and resents Zeus for breaking his word and trapping him there millennia ago. Zeus wants to leave his sons a better world, and to be forgiven for the bad things he has done (and there are many).
In the center of that is Perseus, who Liebesman and Worthington have evolved from the callow, bellowing action hero of the first film into something closer to a human being. For all of his experience, he is in over his head and knows it; he is worried he doesn’t have what it takes, that he will fail his son. He’s not used to his armor and it’s a pain to wear, he has numerous aches and cuts that he’s not action hero enough to ignore. For the first time he is actually interesting to watch, although most of his dialogue is still reduced to grunting and yelling.
That being said, this isn’t a drama about a dysfunctional celestial family, it’s an action film and one which runs less than 100 minutes with credits, so there is only X amount story and character you’re going to be able to fit in around the film’s real remit – giant action scenes revolving around classic mythical figures.
Liebesman has brought some of the shaky-cam vérité of “Battle: Los Angeles” to his take on mythical battle royal and it’s actually a fair fit with the 3D look of the film. Moments involving Chronos or Tartarus itself are particularly breathtaking.
But as well done as those moments are, too often they are devoid of any context which would make them worthwhile. Unfortunately, for all that it tries hard, “Wrath” often falls into the old sequel/action film trap of designing set pieces first and then trying to work the plot to make them fit in. It’s a callous disregard for organic storytelling which hamstrings even the best intentioned action films as you look back at what has gone on and realize there was no reason to happen. A fight sequence with a group of Cyclops living on the island of fallen god Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) is a particularly egregious example, but it’s not alone.
And the surfeit of set pieces doesn’t leave much time for anything else to distract from the problems. Liebesman’s focus is clearly on the godly family and the repercussion’s it has for the world, but just as with his action beats he seems forced to add in some extra characters to follow Perseus around though he has zero interest in them. Thus we get Perseus quickly re-uniting with a grown up Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), now a warrior queen leading her armies into battle, and Agenor (Toby Kebbell), the son of Poseidon. Kebbell is tasked with the thankless job of comic relief in a movie that has a lot but not much in the way of a sense of humor. But at least he’s better off than Pike who has no reason to be in the film at all except that someone somewhere has decided there needs to be at least one woman on screen because those are the rules of the action film.
“Wrath of the Titans” doesn’t exactly dispel the myth that sequels must be derivative and unimaginative, but it at least tries to do so. In between some expertly crafted and completely meaningless action sequences is some actually intriguing storytelling. Liebesman and his small army of screenwriters can’t quite hold onto the reins–there is too much of a desire to deliver the action beats to allow anything else to shine through–but they’ve tried where many wouldn’t have bothered. And isn’t that how myths get started in the first place?