RECAP: Wrath of the Titans

Wrath of the Titans (2012): Jonathan Liebesman

Clash of the Titans hit theater in 2010, an homage and update on a classic 1981 film famous for its groundbreaking special effects. The updated Clash used terrific effects as well, but were hardly groundbreaking. This movie returns Sam Worthington to the role of Perseus, and with more hair.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Perseus, half human son of Zeus, must save his father, and Greece, from the release of the monstrous titan Kronos. 

Hero (3/10)

Ten years after killing the Kraken, Perseus (Sam Worthington) lives his days as a boring fisherman in a podunk village in a desolate part of Greece. He has a son now, Helius, though the boy’s mother died young.

Strong-willed Perseus vowed “to live as a man,” as Zeus (Liam Neeson) tells us in a voiceover that opens the film. As his wife suffered, he did not seek the aid of the gods, a trend spreading in Greece at the time.

Seems the Kraken episode eroded much trust between mortals and gods, and without the belief of the humans, a god’s power fades. Sounds like the gods have much in common with Santa Claus.

Zeus visits his favorite son late one night, warning him of a coming calamity that will affect gods and humans. Kronos, Zeus’s dad and original gangster of Greece, wants freedom, and to be that forewarned calamity. (Zeus seems to know what’s coming.)

Perseus, with extra hair
Perseus, with extra hair

Perseus refuses to help Zeus. He won’t leave his son’s side. That night he dreams of a tremendous arm of lava raining hoplites on an apocalyptic battlefield. Perseus is there, protecting his son, but he can’t stop the fire and smoke spit out by the huge arm. It’s a disturbing image of things to come.

And soon they come. After Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) capture Zeus, some foul underworld entities make for Earth’s surface. One of them attacks Perseus’s village and nearly kills the boy.

Perseus still isn’t interested in fighting until a local doctor urges him to go, and he travels as far as the hall of the gods, where he meets Poseidon (Danny Huston), learns of Zeus’s fate, and watches him die.

Gods don’t usually die, but remember, their power is ebbing. Perseus, after his son urges him, decides to join the fight to free Zeus and stop Kronos.

The journey takes Perseus to Rosamund Pike as Andromeda (the queen, not the galaxy), the hidden realm of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), the underworld, and back to the hall of the gods.

Worthington plays Perseus with bland determinism. He fights anyone or thing, and does it effectively and without flair. All jobs are just that to Perseus–jobs. There’s no joy in being half god, it seems, although Zeus is constantly telling Perseus that being half human and half god can be the best of each.

I ridiculous god-fight fest like Wrath demands a lead who can shed some humor on the situation. This ain’t high literature.

Villain (4/10)

The Titan with all the wrath in him is Kronos, father to Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and other gods and goddesses not featured in the movie.

Back in the day, Kronos ruled. Then his kids overthrew him, casting him into an underworld prison designed by Hephaestus called Tartarus. Thanks to the similar sounds, I always think of Tartarus whenever someone orders tartar sauce for their seafood.

Kronos first appears after Zeus’s capture. The titan is an enormous rock-hewn statue that appears to have fused with a cliff face deep inside Tartarus, itself miles below the Earth’s surface. Kronos then, and later, is an awesome sight.

The makers of Wrath of the Titans understand scale, important in making Kronos a scary villain. The titan is filmed either at great distance, or in closeup, when only certain parts of Kronos can fill the screen.

Kronos has promised his sons true, titanic immortality, not that pathetic Olympian god type of immortality, if they help him escape Tartarus. Zeus, knows his father to be a liar, but Hades falls for the plot, wrapping Ares into it.

The only way Kronos can escape is with powers, and Zeus has lots of powers. So Hades and Ares contrive to bring Zeus to the underworld, where they betray him, hook him up to some god-sucking cords, and let the powers flow into dear old dad.

Big Daddy Kronos
Big Daddy Kronos

Slowly, parts of Zeus flake away, and the king of Olympus transforms from brunette to snowy, as his powers flow to Kronos, depicted as lava (or, I guess, since they’re in the underworld, molten-hot magma), and Zeus’s skin literally turns to ashy flakes.

Kronos is of tremendous size, perhaps 500 feet tall, maybe a thousand feet. It’s hard to say. With such great size, he appears to move in slow motion. Kronos fires up and breaks free of first, his rock cleft, then Tartarus, and finally bursts through a volcano to roam Earth again.

Kronos is a well-conceived villain. No actor portrays him, and he mutters in an ancient language. This technique allows the audience to ignore him, as you might ignore a rambling old man on the street, until he speaks your name and you think, “Oh, shit, he’s talking about me. Now I’m scared.” Kronos has the same effect, when he rambles in a booming deep voice, unintelligible until he throws in the occasional “Hadeeeeees” or “Zeuuuuuus.”

I mentioned the slow motion movement. In the climax, Perseus and Pegasus fly toward the titan. They have to dodge his arm, moving slowly, but its size makes up for its lack of speed. Also, there’s lava flying off like a flicked paint brush.

Wrath saves its titanic villain for the end, letting us see its powers and, more importantly, its size, for more than one WOW moment. Unfortunately, Kronos is a CGI villain facing human actors. Producers were wise to hold him back until the end, letting Hades and Ares carry much of the villain work for the first two acts.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Wrath is light on extended action sequences. With a run time less than 100 minutes and a budget of, wait, $150 million? We deserved much more action for that.

An early attack on Perseus’s village leaves it in ashes and dust after a demon crashes and bashes through the village. One extended shot tracks Perseus as he moves through, around, and onto the adobe huts, finishing with Perseus leaping onto the creature’s back.

As discussed re: Kronos, the VFX team nails him. Perhaps “stones” him is better, because he’s encased/is stone and lava. The scenes involving Kronos were expertly filmed. Conceiving a character of titanic scale amongst humans appeared to trouble the filmmakers not at all.

Take, for example, a brief moment in the final battle. Perseus, atop the flying horse Pegasus, tries to attack Kronos. The titan does not like this, swatting at the horse as we might a fly, with a great, big, swipe of the arm.

Seriously, Kronos was well made and the best reason to see this film.
Seriously, Kronos was well made and the best reason to see this film.

The camera’s eye seems to float above the ground at Kronos knee level, looking up at the swiping arm. Kronos is basically a walking volcano, so when he moves he ejects tons of lava from his person.

Pegasus flies through the lava as it cools and changes color from glowing orange to ashen black. The camera follows a glob of lava as it sloshes on the ground, where hundreds of Greek soldiers scream to their fiery deaths.

The gods have powers, and they are portrayed as basic superhero powers. Shockwaves and sooty clouds surround and emanate from Zeus and Hades. Nothing exudes from Perseus, though he is part god; his power is all heart.

The effects team excelled, drawing up the score in this section. Many of the demons emitted sparks that resembled real fires, and I enjoyed the smoke trails left through the sky by the two-headed fire breathers.

Sidekicks (3/8)

Perseus needs help. Agenor is another son of a god and human, Poseidon, in the former’s case, but he’s languishing in Andromeda’s prison. Although “languishing” might not be the right word, because when we meet him he’s cracking wise and flirting with the queen.

Andromeda accompanies the quest to find Hephaestus and reach the underworld. She’s got moxie. As a full-on human, she’s going to struggle where Perseus and Agenor might not. That doesn’t slow here or bother her.

Andromeda fights Ares after the god has beaten back men with god blood in them. She’s avenging her personal assistant, who prayed to Ares and was then murdered by her chosen deity.

Andromeda
Andromeda

Zeus returns, and he’s playing a caring father. Let’s forget that Zeus is conniving, murdering, raping and patricidal. Let’s try.

These sidekicks don’t get enough to do. They are along for the ride. Agenor tries to get everyone to call him The Navigator, and when he has the chance to create his legend, navigating the underworld, he falls back on the lament of all failed navigators: this map makes no sense. Fail.

Henchmen (2/8)

Ares and Hades drive most of the bad guy action in Wrath, but they act at the behest of Kronos, demoting them to henchmen status.

Hades, hunched and blackened from long millennia shepherding the dead and guarding Kronos, understandably wants out.

Early in the film, Zeus and Poseidon descend to the underworld to meet with their brother, Hades, and Zeus’s son, Ares. Three of Kronos’s sons are together again, and they make it seem as if family reunions are low on a god’s to-do list.

Hades betrays Zeus and Poseidon, as does Ares. Kronos promised them real immortality in exchange for freeing him from Tartarus.

Hades has an obvious motivation. If my brother tricked me into ruling the underworld for eternity, I’d want revenge, too, gods and humans be damned.

Ares has weaker motivations. He seems upset that daddy Zeus likes Perseus more than he likes Ares. Cry me a river, Ares, but you are the GOD OF WAR. Why give a damn about favorite sons and all that? How petty are you?

Very petty. The most petty. Late in Wrath, Ares captures Helius, forcing him to watch Perseus fight Ares. The god of war wants the boy to know what it’s like to lose a father. Zeus is not dead, he just likes Perseus a little more right now than he likes Ares. Pathetic.

Does this guy frighten you?
Does this guy frighten you?

Hades, widely known as a big softie, turns to Zeus’s side, when Zeus, in a master stroke, forgives Hades for unleashing Kronos on the world. Ares does not turn back, and he dies for it.

In Wrath, the gods do not die. Humans die and go to the underworld. Hades explains, “When a god dies, it’s just absence. It’s oblivion.” They turn to sand and crumble into nothing.

Threat of oblivion + lifelong grudge for being placed in underworld = good reason to strike at Zeus. Hades might get off on the insanity plea.

Getting back at dad for the tiniest of perceived slights + being the god of war = awful reason for unleashing the world’s great agent of chaos.

Stunts (1/6)

When gods fight, the FX team must play. Gods in Wrath fight each other and demigods such as Perseus and Agenor.

Each Olympian god has a personal weapon: Zeus’s thunderbolt and Poseidon’s trident are familiar to most. Hades uses a two-point trident, insinuating a lack of confidence in certain areas (wink wink). Ares carries a mallet.

These godly weapons blast energy, the wan, bland kind of ethereal energy that could be of any power, except it’s visible so it can be dodged if you see it coming in time.

The gods do some energy at each other, and one’s better than the other, and the fight is over. Shrug your shoulders and wait for the winner to emerge.

In the climax, Perseus fights Ares for Zeus’s thunderbolt. They meet in the hall of the gods to duel to the death. Ares has a surprise for his brother from another mother, Perseus’s son. The god of war wants the kid to watch Perseus die.

Perseus has Hades’s and Poseidon’s god weapons, needing the thunderbolt on Are’s back. When the fight starts, Perseus comes at Ares with both weapons blazing, and immediately loses them. He’s only half god, remember. He tries a sword and loses that immediately. Then he draws out two knives. They don’t work. Ares blocks both hands, grips them until Perseus screams, and suplexes him.

Perseus puts a rock into Ares’s face, and then the god smashes Perseus’s head through multiple stone columns. Fights don’t get more one-sided. Couple of times Perseus gets his hands on Zeus’s thunderbolt, affixed to Ares’s back, but it’s not until son Helius takes up his father’s sword that Perseus gains the upper hand.

Perseus rides piggy back on Ares, the least intimidating fighting move. You gotta do whatcha gotta do when fighting a full-blown god. Perseus puts the sleeper hold on the god after stabbing him with his own knife. Then, both on their knees, Perseus kills the god of war with a thunderbolt through the gut. Ares gets the godly sand treatment and crumbles to nothing.

Why were these fights like a pro wrestling match? Does this mean that WWE is derived from deities?

Climax (2/6)

Perseus, Agenor, and Andromeda successfully flee Tartarus by clicking together two of the three god weapons and bring an injured Zeus to Andromeda’s camp.

They still need Zeus’s thunderbolt, still attached to Ares’s back. Perseus prays to Ares, taunting him, to meet in the hall of the gods. “Prove to me that you’re right,” Perseus tells his brother. Prove that you’re the better brother, Ares.

Meanwhile, Andromeda readies the troops. Agenor and others smear mud on themselves, the best flame retardant in the ancient world, preparing for whatever sneaks out of hell. The characters fully believe they can fight gods, which says a lot about what they thought of their gods.

The movie cuts between Perseus fighting Ares and the main battlefield. Perseus must fight Ares as his son watches. Ares wants the boy to see what it’s like when one’s father is taken away from them. The son is scared, but strong.

After Perseus seems to have lost the fight, the boy picks up his father’s sword, ready to fight the god of war. It’s a successful distraction that allows Perseus the time he needs to recover and gain the upper hand. He gains the permanent upper hand by killing Ares.

On the battlefield, the humans struggle. Kronos’s stirrings are causing black smoke and lava to spew from a volcano. Fireballs streak through the sky, but not ordinary fireballs. When they strike the ground, they transform into grotesque, dual-torsoed demons with four arms. The Greeks unleash their own flame balls. Got to fight fire with fire.

These demons sprint through the Greek lines. Agenor kills one after it impales itself on a stake, but the few others hack and hew like a rapid fire burning dry grass.

One tracking shot follows a demon as it kills a dozen soldiers. Another shot, high above the battlefield, shows how much damage a few demons can do. Plenty.

With the action away, Hades has time to visit his brother. “I forgive you,” Hades says, for imprisoning him in the underworld for countless millennia. they hold hands, and some of Hades’s power fires up Zeus, whose white hair turns back to brown. Zeus sits up. Hades says, “You look ten thousand years younger.”

Though they are without their weapons, “We had power before we had weapons,” Zeus says. “Let’s have some fun.” The two brothers walk out of the medical tent and start wrecking demons with flicks of their wrists.

Back in the hall of the gods, Perseus kills Ares and assembles the god weapons. He can barely hold them as they fuse together and vibrate. I would like to see them fight Thor’s hammer.

Down below, Kronos finally erupts from the volcano, destroying the entire mountain. Still muttering, Kronos spots his sons and calls their names. You don’t want to see Kronos coming at all, and especially with your name on his lips.

Zeus calls dibs on first blow, and he sends a little ground lightning toward Kronos, who appears several miles away. The lightning knocks the titan backward. Kronos responds my knocking over a mountain.

Perseus, aboard Pegasus, flies toward Kronos. The titan swipes at them. They dodge the blow. Kronos’s arm flings globs of lava behind it, and much of it lands on distant Greek soldiers as if they were a Jackson Pollock canvas.

Kronos continues his lumbering walk toward the only defense in the world. He ruins a few ruins. Hades and Zeus won’t tolerate this, and they do a double power, shooting ground lightning and whatever it is Hades shoots at Kronos. Again he’s knocked back, but not down. It’s the opening Perseus needed.

Kronos responds by punching the ground, sending a smoke wave. Zeus shoves his brother back as he creates a protective forcefield.

Perseus is in Kronos’s face. The titan breathes fire! Pegasus dodges, and then the pair are literally in Kronos’s face, flying through his throat. Perseus tosses the ultimate god weapon down the tube before escaping.

From a distance we watch the end. Kornos explodes in blue flame, his head toppling before it, too, explodes. The Age of Titans officially ends. The Greeks cheer and chant Perseus’s name.

Jokes (0/4)

Agenor was meant to inject comedy into Wrath. Dude’s a little bit funny, but without a chance to add much.

His best jokes come from trying to get everyone to call him The Navigator, much in the way Peter Quill tries to get everyone to call him Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

No one calls him The Navigator, but I bet he’ll keep trying.

Setting (1/4)

Tartarus is the clear winner here. Designed by a crazy Hephaestus, the underworld’s prison is impossible to enter, unless you have a Navigator.

And even then, getting where you want to go is luck. A gods-level labyrinth guards Tartarus, one that shifts every few minutes. Not in a thousand years could someone penetrate the maze, but Perseus does.

When doors aren’t trying to crush you, minotaurs are trying to gore you. Careful where you stand, because the rock floor under you might break in two and send you 50 feet down.

Tartarus, the titan prison, is a huge empty space built for one prisoner, the tremendous Kronos. It’s effective, turning Kronos into a rock formation.

Gone are the beautiful landscapes of Clash of the Titans. Perseus and company visit a forest for a few scenes, but the place is more cyclopean playground than boreal paradise. And the battlefield where Kronos kills thousands of Greeks is a wasteland, even before Kronos gets to it.

Commentary (0/2)

In Wrath, the time of the gods is ending. We see three of them turn to sand and crumble into oblivion. Were the filmmakers trying harder, this could be a meditation on a world of increased secularism. But the Age of Enlightenment is a few millennia away.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

This one’s pretty tame.

Others

  • Zeus prefers Perseus because he is as much man as he is god. Godly powers, in this world, act as genetic codes. Perseus’s son should be 1/4 god, and his descendants will have Olympian powers in decreasing ratios. The gods are dying, so they won’t propagate again, but shouldn’t the Greeks, even today have some vestiges of godly powers?
  • Everyone’s calling everyone “brother” in this movie. Brothers never do that. They use derogatory nicknames like Fart Face and Poop Head.

Summary (21/68): 31%

The only reason to see Wrath is to watch Kronos wreaking havoc on a desolate Greek wasteland.