'Wrath of the Titans,' or how Zeus got his groove back

Posted by · 4:39 pm · March 28th, 2012

It’s hard to think of a major 2012 release I was looking forward to much less than “Wrath of the Titans,” a largely uninvited sequel to 2010’s singularly ghastly “Clash of the Titans” remake — a notorious nadir in post-converted 3D sludginess, but also a dour, incoherent slog even in two dimensions. It made millions, sure, but so do the Kardashian sisters… and no right-minded person is clamoring for further editions of them.

Indeed, I wasn’t planning on seeing “Wrath of the Titans” at all. Every year, there’s a certain number of obviously whiffy releases one can reasonably relegate to the “only if you pay me” pile, and there I felt comfortable chucking Sam Worthington’s latest skirt-opera — until, well, someone offered to pay me. Commissioned by Time Out to review the film, I slumped into the screening room earlier this week with the grim-faced mien of a man keeping a urologist’s appointment — only to emerge, some 90-plus minutes later, with ears and eyes bludgeoned but a wholly unanticipated spring in my step. Whisper it soft if you must, but as my review explains, “Wrath of the Titans” is not half bad. Okay, it’s good.

I’m as stunned as you are. Improving on the 2010 film, admittedly, is a pretty low bar to clear, though “Wrath” does so with an almost contemptuous degree of comfort: with South African genre upstart Jonathan Liebesman taking the reins from Louis Leterrier, the effects are more polished, the set pieces more tidily constructed, the cast more discerningly chosen. The only conceivable point in the former film’s favor is that Sam Worthington looks better with a buzz cut than with the curly pro-footballer mullet he adopts here, though even that minus scores cred by representing less of an anachronism.  

Rather more impressively, the film betters even the original 1981 “Clash of the Titans” (an affectionately regarded but fundamentally ropey curio) for sweeping boys’-own silliness. What’s lousy about it is the joyous preserve of B-movies: the egregious manhandling of mythology (sample exchange: “Gods don’t die!” “They do now!”), the hilariously bald expository dialogue, the expression-challenged lead. there’s not quite enough inspiration amid the rubble to make it special, but there’s enough care, craft and self-awareness here to show up the indefensibility of too much shoddy Hollywood product, the 2010 “Clash” included. 

Some of the improvements are obvious, self-explanatory even: we needn’t go into the hows and whys of Rosamund Pike representing better value than Gemma Arterton as a female lead. Others, however, are subtler, relating to the logical thrust of the storytelling, or the comparative lack of clutter in the imagery. (The 3D’s a lot less muddy, too.) Some of this may be put down to more resourceful direction and (within limits) writing; others suggest studio suits may actually have taken notes on what didn’t work about the first film. If so, that’s encouraging: with “Clash” having raked in $490 million worldwide, the sequel didn’t need to be markedly better than its predecessor, but enough has been tweaked here to indicate many of our objections were heard.  

It’ll be interesting, then, to see if the critical and commercial response to “Wrath” reflects the filmmakers’ extra effort. I’ve heard enough horrified reactions from colleagues to my favorable assessment to indicate that a kneejerk bevy of one-star pans awaits it on Friday — Slant’s Jaime Christley has already gone one better with a zero-star evisceration — but I’m also not the only one noticing an improvement. Our HitFix neighbor Drew McWeeny was also pleasantly surprised by the film; Glenn Kenny and Variety’s Andrew Barker are among the high-end critics giving it a bemused pass. Box office, I both expect and hope, will be robust: if the Hollywood machine doesn’t get rewarded for its tentative stabs at franchise quality control, it won’t bode well for riskier innovations.  

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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