Praise the Gods, 'Titans' Ain't Bad!
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
One problem with the contemporary sword-and-sandal-and-giant-animated-renderings-of-multiple-mythical-creatures movie is its reluctance to embrace its own inherent generic cheesiness. The most memorable of the older breed of such pictures, as in the early '60s "Jason and the Argonauts," were, in a sense, technically ambitious B-movies all about spectacle and set pieces, and their silly elements -- among them poor acting and gratuitously bare female midriffs -- were part of what made them enjoyable. They were also largely unselfconscious, which is one reason why today's variants of such pictures are better off not trying to emulate those qualities. By the same token, one mode of compensation seems to be overplaying the pomp and portent that in the earlier movies was just a pretext for the set pieces and other fun stuff.
In the tradition of its predecessor, 2010's "Clash of the Titans" (itself a big-budget remake of what was essentially the last of the mythological Bs, a 1981 picture with effects by Ray Harryhausen), "Wrath of the Titans" brings the pomp and portent with a script that makes much of a world that has Stopped Believing In Its Gods. And it has those Gods played by the best multi-tasking serious thespians big budgets can buy, including Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, who appeared in "Clash" as Zeus and Hades, respectively and appropriately.
Back as the conflicted demigod Perseus is hunky, earnest, teeth-gritting Sam Worthington, now with a 10-year-old son to protect. New to the party are Édgar Ramirez as nasty war god Ares, Bill Nighy as toolmaker to the god Hephaestus, Toby Kebell as bad-boy demigod Agenor, and Rosamund Pike as non-midriff-baring warrior queen Andromeda. (Would it sound creepy if I noted that Pike's beautiful blue eyes really are the most impressive special effect in this CGI-heavy 3D spectacular? But it's true, really!)
Combine this with the fact that taking the director's chair for this picture is Jonathan Liebesman, whose prior picture was that monument of brain-freezing self-conscious heavyosity "Battle: Los Angeles," and you would seem to have the ingredients in place of a particularly leaden slice of anti-cheese. But praise the gods, or the studio execs' notes, or whatever: while not in any way a picture to write home about, and for this genre fan a little light on the bodacious giant creatures (at least until the climax), "Wrath" is actually a pretty brisk exercise that delivers on the action level in a pretty satisfying fashion.
Worthington's stalwart and physically confident throughout, the fight scenes only rarely devolve into Tasmanian-Devil-3D-blurs, and the brief bits of comic relief are not inordinately cringe-worthy. The lava and explosion effects pop very nicely, the storyline in which the bad gods conspire to unleash the volcanic big bad guy Kronos is coherently imparted, and...well, not much more than that.
There's little about this picture to really endear the viewer after the whole thing wraps (unless you're really hypnotized by Pike, or something). That said, while it's happening, the sensationalism is, well, pretty sensational. Sonically as well as visually -- the audio effects here, particularly in the underworld sequences, will give the subwoofers at your multiplex quite the workout.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.