Wrath of the Titans (2012)

2014 #78
Jonathan Liebesman | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA & Spain / English | 12 / PG-13

Wrath of the TitansThe 2010 Clash of the Titans is primarily remembered for its bad early-3D post-conversion, but must’ve made enough money to greenlight this sequel. I deemed Clash passably entertaining and expected no more here. Sadly, Wrath can’t deliver even that.

A confused story connects workmanlike action sequences and mediocre CGI (the cyclops resemble Shrek characters). A romantic subplot consists solely of The Hero kissing The Female at the end. New ideas sporadically rear their head, but Liebesman can’t ring anything interesting from them. Clash’s strong points — creature design; retro-styled gods — are AWOL.

The end result is all bluster and no heart.

2 out of 5

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long. You’ve just read one.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

2011 #23
Louis Leterrier | 102 mins | TV (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Clash of the TitansThe thoroughly blockbusterised remake of ’80s fantasy favourite Clash of the Titans came in for a sound critical drubbing on its release last year, much of it focused on the post-production cash-in 3D applied to the film. I didn’t watch it in 3D so won’t have much to say about that, but I found the film itself to be passably enjoyable.

Firstly, it’s brief — little more than 90 minutes before the credits roll. That can feel stingy in cinemas these days, where we have to pay so much for a ticket getting your money’s worth is important, but at home especially it’s suited for a quick bit of fun. Still, Titans could’ve done with more length to allow characters to grow — at times it feels like a genuinely epic tale reduced to a lengthy plot summary, speeding over the fine details in search of the next big plot beat.

There’s a fairly impressive cast — nearly everyone is famous or at least recognisable — and all of them are massively underused. Perseus’ team are dispatched in various fashions, but we don’t really care because their group dynamic has only been built a tiny bit. And I wanted to care, because there were actors I like and characters who had potential — even if most were built from band-of-warriors stereotypes — but the film didn’t do enough to allow me to. Every time it produces a good bit, it throws in some groan-inducing sentiment or cheesily pompous dialogue.

FiiightWhat the film is built to do is provide action sequences, though these are passable and rarely more. They’re fine while they’re happening, but pretty much forgotten after — none of it shows a great deal of inspiration. The history of film is littered with far worse examples, but that’s about the best I can say. I can see why it would be painful in 3D too: quite aside from the use of always-criticised post-conversion, and the apparent rush job on that, Letterier favours the modern action style of handheld jiggly shots and fast cuts, neither of which lend themselves to the 3D experience. Heck, even Michael Bay acquiesced to adapt his similar style when shooting Transformers 3 in 3D, so you know it must be true.

In fact, the action sequences would probably benefit from the expansion of character I mentioned before: caring about them would add jeopardy when their lives are in danger and some emotional impact when they snuff it. As it stands, Titans is an emotionally empty experience, much more so than, say, Inception, which was frequently criticised for similar shortcomings. In fairness, this is probably because critics thought Inception might deliver in such respects, while no one expected a pre-summer blockbuster like Titans to bother. And they were right to an extent, but while it’s never going to be an affecting human drama, it should bother more than it does.

The FerrymanDesign is probably the film’s strong point, particularly sequences that feature the three witches and the ferryman. Clearly these dark, borderline-horror-film settings are the design team’s strongpoint. Elsewhere, the gods have an appealingly retro lens-flared-silver-armour look about them — I don’t remember the ’80s original very well, but one could imagine this iteration of the gods being dropped in without anyone noticing.

The CGI is complaint free, as with most well-budgeted modern flicks, apart from one glaring exception: Medusa looks almost as fake as the Rock’s Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, which you may remember was lambasted even at the time — “the time” now being ten years ago. Oh dear. Maybe the passing years and abundance of CGI has affected my critical faculties here — that is to say, maybe side by side this Medusa would look a lot better than the decade-old Scorpion King — but, in the context of the rest of the film, that level of distracting fake-ness sprang to mind.

I’m laying into it almost as much as anyone now, but in spite of all that I sort of quite liked Clash of the Titans. It’s massively flawed in many areas, but good bits occasionally shine through. Unlike most blockbusters of the past few years, which tend to be bloated affairs in need of a good chop down, it would actual benefit from being a bit longer — Dear Godssome plot elements could do with greater clarity, most of the characters could do with some depth.

It’s probably all the studio’s fault for forcing major last-minute changes and reshoots. While I wound up enjoying what we got, the other version — as detailed by CHUD.com — does sound more interesting.

3 out of 5

Terminator Salvation: Director’s Cut (2009)

2010 #72
McG | 118 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / R

Terminator Salvation begins with a title sequence that displays the film’s title twice. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that, but somehow it just doesn’t bode well.

However, I was somewhat surprised — after the mass of negative reviews — to discover that I quite liked Terminator Salvation. Sacrilege! But, let’s see if I can explain why…

I’ll begin with the most obvious potential flaw (other than the very concept of continuing the Terminator franchise without James Cameron, that is): director McG, he of the two risible Charlie’s Angels films. Oh dear. But it turns out he’s a surprisingly good director — he certainly does better work than the cheap hack job Jonathan Mostow made of Terminator 3. I doubt everyone agrees on this point, but whatever else you may wish to say about McG, he knows how to put an action sequence together. Most of the time. There’s still some shaky-cam business and very fast cuts, but the sense of geography and what’s actually happening is largely maintained.

This is helped by two things: one, that several sequences involve Giant Robots that benefit from very wide, often aerial, shots to show them off; and two, the apparent inspiration of Children of Men’s long-take action sequences. McG doesn’t quite have Alfonso Cuarón’s conviction in maintaining the single shot for an entire sequence, but he does use it for significant chunks. That said, the latter sometimes backfires. Early on the film feels a bit like watching someone else play a first person shooter, compounded by McG’s habit of sticking with one character throughout sequences that could benefit from a wider perspective, for example Connor’s helicopter crash. That said (again), I’m a little torn what to think of that example: keeping the camera on Connor produces an unusual spin on a potentially familiar sequence, but it’s also a bit disorientating and, as I say, compounds this sense of watching someone else play a game.

Story wise, I thought it fared fairly well. The tale of how John Connor came to meet Kyle Reese and become leader of the resistance wasn’t exactly begging to be told, but if you’re going to continue the franchise into post-Judgement Day future war territory it was probably the best place to start. Terminator 3 proved that the narrative of Arnie/any other Terminator coming back to our present to save Connor/prevent Judgement Day wasn’t in need of reheating again, so it’s also nice to be presented with a slightly more original story within the same universe.

It’s not all fine and dandy though: the behind-the-scenes issues you may have heard about are fitfully apparent on screen, with occasional awkward jumps or half-thought-out developments that smack of an unfinished script or compromised edit. Some of the dialogue’s pretty poor too — considering it starts off pleasantly economical, it’s a shame when characters begin uncomfortably stating the obvious as it wears on.

And even if you hadn’t seen it on the box or heard about it in all the film’s publicity, it’s obvious pretty early on that Marcus Wright will turn out to be a Terminator. To McG’s credit, he plays the ultimate reveal quite well — for those who know, it just about functions as a scene in its own right; for those who still hadn’t guessed, it works as a reveal — but if any filmmaker genuinely thought they’d kept it covered up they were sorely mistaken, and the first half could’ve done with a more knowing rewrite to compensate. Or just delete the prologue.

Littered throughout are numerous nods to the franchise’s history, some of which occur quite naturally, others that feel shoehorned in. I suppose it kept some people happy. The same can be said of the action sequences, though one of the most forced — an attack by a random Giant Robot on an abandoned gas station our heroes only happen to have stopped at — also turns out to be one of the best. Others though, like John Connor taking out a Moto-Terminator with a bit of rope, are more “wouldn’t that be cool to see?” than logical behaviour in the context of the story.

There’s not much for the cast to do either, with a multi-pronged story that leaves everyone feeling short changed. Christian Bale growls a bit and occasionally looks Meaningful as John Connor. At least he doesn’t use his Batman voice. His part was artificially boosted following the star’s casting, which dilutes the focus from where it should be: Marcus Wright, played by the new Colin Farrell (i.e. he’s being cast in everything based on the fact someone said he was The Next Big Thing), Sam Worthington. He’s fine as ever, though his accent seems to waver between American and his native Australian. The same can’t be said of Helena Bonham Carter’s brief turn — her voice hits a constant fake American. Meanwhile, Arnie’s digitised cameo is just that. On the one hand it’s a nice touch, on the other it’s ultimately pointless — Connor doesn’t even react to the familiar face.

Bryce Dallas Howard is severely underused as Kate Connor; one wonders if her part was massively cut back at some point, or if she was just tempted by an exceptionally good payday — considering she usually appears in smaller, better-regarded films, an almost non-existent role in a blockbuster seems an odd choice. That said, she did the same thing in Spider-Man 3 and has since plumped for a role in the Twilight exploitative moneymaker series, so I guess my analysis of her career choices is off.

Finally, then, what of the Director’s Cut? I’ve not seen the theatrical so can’t comment myself, but the changes are few and most are ultimately insignificant. There’s a thorough, illustrated list here. Perhaps the most interesting thing (and you’ll see how I meant that loosely) about the newer cut is what it once again shows about the differences between the UK and the US: over here, it retained its theatrical 12 certificate when extended by just under three minutes to include ever-so-slightly more violence and the briefest of brief nudity; in the US, that bumped it up to an R.

More interesting than these slight tweaks is the behind-the-scenes story of a very different film, which I alluded to earlier. I don’t want to discuss it at length, but this article does. Would that have made for a better film? Christ knows. I wouldn’t count on it. Probably not, even. But it is interesting.

It’s not popular to like Terminator Salvation, that’s for certain, and I suppose it depends what you expect from the film. Is it the equal of the first two genre-definers? No. Is it better than the rehashed hack-directed third? Yes. Did I actually enjoy it? You know what, I did; and considering the reviews had me expecting to hate its poorly-made guts for just about every reason under the sun, it turns out that’s a good result.

3 out of 5

Terminator Salvation begins on Sky Movies Premiere today at 10am and 8pm, and is on every day at various times until Thursday 9th September.