Friday, April 06, 2012

Nap time with the 'Titans'

Late in "Wrath of the Titans," the sequel to the 2010 remake of "Clash of the Titans," Liam Neeson's Zeus says "Let's have some fun." The phrase "Well, we haven't yet" crossed my mind.

I was not prepared for how bad "Wrath of the Titans" would be. "Clash of the Titans" was by no means a great film, but it was passable, if instantly forgettable, entertainment. I expected more of the same. No such luck. Director Jonathan Liebesman is lucky though that his film is so sleep inducing he'll never feel the wrath of the audience.

The plot of "Wrath" is simple enough. A decade after his heroic feats in "Clash," Perseus (Sam Worthington), the half-human son of Zeus, is trying to live as a fisherman. His tranquil existence is shattered when Zeus is taken prisoner in the underworld by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Édgar Ramírez). Perseus must rescue his father and stop the release of Kronos, who will destroy the world. In this quest he is joined by Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Poseidon's half-human son, and the warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike).

That plot is an easy formula for a popcorn movie. Throw a bunch of monsters from Greek mythology at our heroes and call it a day. Heck, you don't even need a particularly good screenplay in this case. "Clash" only had a so-so screenplay, but it got by on decent acting and a couple fun action sequences. "Wrath" can't even deliver on that modest level.

At least "Clash" director Louis Leterrier remembered a key rule of directing action: You need to be able to see what is happening. Liebesman is entirely to blame for how poorly "Wrath" came out.
His choices as director — the editing, the dim lighting, the shot composition — make for a film that is difficult to follow and see.

Liebesman frames his action sequences in tight close ups with quick edits every few seconds that make it impossible for the audience to have sense of place within a scene. Everything happens in such a whirl of images that there is never any sense of building tension or excitement. A good action scene needs to use medium and long shots so that viewers can clearly understand what is occurring.

There is a battle involving a group of cyclops, in which for the first few minutes I didn't realize there was more than one cyclops. There was never an establishing shot. Instead there was a series of seemingly random close ups. In another sequence, Perseus does a battle with a monster and, once again, it is all close ups to the point of which you barely get a look at the creature.

If you're going to spend millions of dollars on special effects — the budget was reportedly $150 million — wouldn't you want your visuals to be seen? When you do see them, they are pretty good, which makes it all the more frustrating.

The style that Liebesman utilizes is meant to seem more visceral, chaotic and put you in the action. This approach can work in the hands of a talented filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, who did create a sense of chaos in the opening of "Saving Private Ryan."

The acting on display, even from returning greats like Neeson and Fiennes, is stiff and dull. Neeson and Fiennes just seem to be waiting to go cash their paychecks. I hope a huge chunk of their wages goes to charity, medical research or, at the very least, to funding some more interesting films.

There are two bright spots in the cast. Kebbell is given some good one-liners and he delivers them well. Bill Nighy has a 10-minute sequence as Hephaestus, the god who created Zeus, Poseidon and Hades' godly weapons. Nighy has a quirky energy that infuses the film with an all-too-brief sense of fun.

Those two performances are not enough to give this film even the most marginal of recommendations. This film is an ungodly mess. You've been warned.

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