Sequels to popular videogames often find the hero at their center having lost their power between entries – it may be lazy, but it serves as a pretty good way to excuse the fact that the character begins weak and has to do all the leveling up and skill tree-advancing once more. It is far more difficult to have a super-powerful character need to get more powerful in a sequel.
Jonathan Liebesman, director of 2012’s Wrath of the Titans (the sequel to 2010’s Louis Leterrier helmed remake of Clash of the Titans) opts for a similar device. Between films, our hero, Perseus (Sam Worthington), has gone off to lead the quiet life of a fisherman, be happily married, and raise a nice family. While the life of a fisherman battling to survive against a cruel sea could make for a tremendous movie (or book), it isn’t the goal of Liebesman’s film – he is creating a Greek mythology-based action adventure picture and that means that Perseus is going to have to pick up his sword in pretty quick order so that he can go and battle all manner of demons. The transition is made that much easier with Perseus’ wife having passed away between movies and his child (and village) being threatened by evil creatures. He has to go and defeat a great evil because this time it’s personal.
Okay, so it’s not exactly the most original impetus for sending a hero on a quest, but it’s enough to put the movie into motion.. Then, when Perseus finds out that his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson), is in trouble, well, that just seals the deal (it’s personal times two).
I shouldn’t really be knocking the film for this foolishness, Wrath of the Titans falls prey to some of the issues the first film in the franchise had, but on the whole it’s a better movie. Wrath isn’t great, but it’s far more watchable, far more enjoyable, than its precursor.
Regrettably, the same thing that really hurts the first movie, hurts this one as well. As I discussed in my review of Clash, the problem with the movie is a lack of motivation – people (and gods) do things to advance the story, not because the characters to that point have a shown appropriate rationale for an action. Wrath may provide motivation for Perseus, but it lacks motivation on the flipside, it lacks compelling reasons for why the bad guys do what they do.
The big bad in the movie is Kronos, father to Zeus and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Kronos has convinced Hades and one of Zeus’ sons, the God of War, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), to set Kronos free. Ares, it seems hates Zeus and has hated Zeus for years on end. The poor kid doesn’t like the fact that dear old dad likes Perseus, and figures that Zeus’ god-sized heart isn’t big enough to carry love for two children. Thank goodness Ares doesn’t have access to Wikipedia, cause that would tell him that Zeus actually has more than a dozen children (just imagine the wrath then!).
The problem isn’t really the fact that Ares doesn’t seem to have a concept of Greek mythology and the number of siblings he actually has, it’s that he has chosen to act now, in this way, for no particularly good reason. There is a story told about how the Gods are losing their power because men don’t believe in them anymore and Kronos has promised eternal life to Ares, but Ares’ anger is so outsized that it’s simply impossible to believe that Zeus wouldn’t have put the kid in his place centuries earlier.
But, hey, if Ares and Hades don’t team up with Kronos, then they can’t capture Zeus and Kronos can’t suck away Zeus’ life force and the movie can’t really get going. The motivations, again, feel like an outgrowth of plot requirements rather than having a plot occur due to character motivations.
So, Perseus goes on his journey and grabs a couple of friends on the way. There is Agenor (Toby Kebbell), the son of Poseidon; and there’s Andromeda (Rosamund Pike replacing Alexa Davalos from Clash) who is leading an army against baddies any way. They go off, encounter surprisingly minimal resistance for people going into the Underworld, and slowly but surely progress, eventually winning the day.
The action sequences in Wrath are really quite good, and the film’s interpretation of how a god would die is interesting, but for Perseus and two friends to be going up against Hades, Kronos, and Ares, they really don’t seem to struggle all that much. It never feels quite like a hard enough set of battles, and while they encounter interesting folks along the way—most notably Bill Nighy’s Hephaestus (whom some would say is another of Zeus’ kids… poor Ares)—but one doesn’t for a moment fear that Perseus is going to fail. Even Perseus doesn’t really seem to ever think he’s going to fail, no matter how stale he is at riding Pegasus. Consequently, the only reason to watch is for the battles, and as good as they are, they aren’t enough to elevate Wrath beyond an enjoyable, but forgettable, diversion.
As (perhaps repeatedly) stated, the reason to watch the film is to see Perseus take down beasts, gods, and the occasional cyclops, and the Blu-ray does deliver those images wonderfully. The film, unfortunately, hews a little bit more to a blue-and-orange color scheme than is good for it, but they’re spectacularly good blues and oranges. Grains of sand, strands of Zeus’ hair, and bits of cloaks all show up magnificently, with the presentation offering oodles of detail. Nothing is lost to shadows even in the Underworld, and the CGI effects are beautifully rendered. Where the presentation goes somewhat off the rails is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It is certainly a full sound field, with effects appearing everywhere. While that does bring the audience to Ancient Greece, one is left wondering whether sound effects were simply more loud thousands of years ago than they are today. Every effect is an earth-shattering roar, several degrees louder than it need be, and several degrees louder than what works for the volume of the dialogue.
The special features on the film are an interesting, but perhaps unwieldy set. The film contains an enhanced picture-in-picture presentation which is actually two different things in one. You can either go down the “Path of Men” and see behind the scenes bits on how the movie was made or the “Path of Gods” and learn more of Greek mythology (the paths do converge occasionally). The problem is that it seems unlikely that anyone will, of their own volition, sit through the movie three times (once to see it and once for each path). Consequently, it ends up feeling more gimmicky than useful. Featurettes from the paths are also available to be viewed separately from the film and some deleted scenes are present as well. The biggest disappointment with the Blu-ray release is that Warner Bros. has opted to only make an Ultraviolet digital copy available, not an iTunes one.
Weighing in at a scant 99 minutes (slightly shorter than its predecessor), Wrath of the Titans may lack an exceptionally engaging or terribly cohesive story, but it all whips by in such a blurred frenzy of superhuman action that you may not realize until it’s all done that the end isn’t just nigh, but past. If you liked the 2010 film, you’re assuredly going to like this one. In fact, anyone only moderately interested in the first will probably enjoy what they get. It isn’t great, but it is better.