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Wednesday, May 29,2013

The Screening Room: Like, oh my gods!

Add 'Wrath of the Titans' to the list of Sequels That Never Needed to Happen

by James Sanford

Wednesday, April 4 -- "Good evening, everyone, and thanks for coming down to the Olympus Lounge tonight. Our special cocktail tonight is the Saganaki Sour, made with ouzo, bitters and the finest flaming cheese that money can buy. And this next little number is for lovers only, and it's called 'Ode on a Grecian Error.' It goes a little something like this:

"I went to 'Wrath of the Titans'/But it was so lame/I had to laugh at the Titans/Ain't that a shame/Everyone was attackin'/But there was no Kraken to blame …"

Admittedly, that's not much of a tune, but then "Wrath of the Titans" isn't much of a movie, either. Yet another entry on the ever-growing list of Sequels That Never Needed To Happen, "Wrath" is a noisy, often confused mythological mishmash, enlivened occasionally by the presence of Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson; instead of camping it up as, respectively, the vengeful Hades and the more level-headed Zeus, the veteran actors attempt to elevate the slipshod script into a supernatural sibling rivalry drama.

With a little more support from director Jonathan Liebesman (who made last year's awful "Battle: Los Angeles") and screenwriters Dan Mazeau and David Johnson, their scheme might have worked. Sadly, "Wrath" is an adventure without any sense of adventurousness, one more slog through the showroom where the latest CGI creations and digital marvels are on display. Without a sense of fun or much imagination, however, all the special effects seem like a video game that someone else is playing. You're welcome to stick around and watch, but you probably won't be caught up in it for long.

"Wrath" is the follow-up to 2010's "Clash of the Titans," which, in turn, was a remake of the 1981 cult classic of the same name. While the first "Clash" is undeniably cornball and borderline-tacky by today's standards, it has two things the newer films are missing: heart and a sense of wonder. There's a real excitement in how Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation brings to life the snake-haired Medusa, the hideous swamp dweller Caliban and, of course, the city-crushing sea monster known as the Kraken.

Comparing the 1981 film to its contemporary knock-offs is akin to putting a cheeseburger made by your mom next to one from McDonald's: Although neither qualifies as a particularly nutritious meal, one is made to be enjoyed and the one is made solely to be sold.

In addition to Neeson and Fiennes, "Wrath" pulls in Bill Nighy for a mildly funny appearance as a blacksmith who once forged weapons for the gods (cue a cameo by Bubo the Mechanical Owl, a cute nod to the 1981 film). Rosamund Pike suits up for action as the commanding Queen Andromeda, but spends most of the movie getting knocked down instead of cracking heads. As for Sam Worthington, reprising his role as the half-god Perseus, he tries to give his dull dialogue an edge by uttering most of it in a raspy whisper and grimacing frequently: It doesn't come close to working.

The jumpy plot involves predictably combative god of war Ares (Edgar Ramirez) teaming up with Hades to capture Zeus, hold him prisoner in the underworld and drain his power to nurture the long-dormant Kronos, a ferocious Titan who roars back to life, looking frighteningly like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man after a little too much time in the campfire. Unable to stand by while the inhabitants of Hell turn his homeland into their own low-rent district, Perseus leads an expedition into Hades' domain, which requires confronting a band of cyclopes, battling a minotaur and navigating an "Inception"-style maze.

Instead of carrying us on a thrilling journey, the movie putters along as if Liebesman was checking off a list of characters and episodes that needed to be included. The film ends on a flat note, indicating that Liebsman completed his chores and left it up to the marketing department to take over from there. "Wrath of the Titans" really is a cinematic Saganaki Sour, a concoction that might be fun to look at for a minute or two, but one that will probably leave a bad taste in your mouth. Order something else -- and don't forget to tip your waitress.

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