3D was recently used to awe-inspiring effect in John Carter (TMT Review), a movie that both cost a lot more and will make a lot less than Wrath of the Titans. Carter proves that 3D isn’t always a bad idea. In the hands of a good director, it can be inextricably tethered to a good story by giving life, not just flair, to that story’s visuals. Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman takes whatever good will John Carter engendered for 3D and runs it right the fuck into the ground. Wrath would be a confusing, drab, eye-starving piece of commercial cynicism even without 3D, but Liebesman clearly hoped the gimmick would mask his movie’s flaws. He missed an essential fact of 3D: for good or ill, it can only enhance what is already there. But while 3D certainly doesn’t mask what’s wrong in Wrath of the Titans, it does at least distract from the incomprehensibility of the plot.
The confusion begins early and only gets worse. The story picks up where 2010’s Clash of the Titans left off, with a battle-weary Perseus (the perpetually better-than-his-movies Sam Worthington) retired to a small Greek fishing village to raise his son. Perseus is hardly finished reeling in his morning batch of Mediterranean prawn when his father, mighty Zeus (Liam Neeson), appears out of the ether to inform him that because human beings have lost their faith, the world is about to end. People (like Perseus himself, who is half-human) have stopped praying to the gods in these modern times (there is no date or even exact place given, but it’s left for us to assume that the story’s happening right around the time the real ancient Greeks wrote down all these myths). And, says Zeus, when the gods aren’t fed prayers, their powers diminish. If that happens, they’ll be unable to keep some vague evil at the center of the earth from rising up and splattering humanity across the Aegean. Perseus considers the request for his help — for some unexplained reason the gods need him, even though he’s basically just a man who happens to be able to fight — then refuses, citing familial duty. Zeus exits on a lightning bolt.
So far, so comprehensible. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a whole lot of 3D to shoot a scene wherein Zeus and Perseus stand in a hut and talk. What’s confusing, and positively slathered in 3D effects, is everything that happens next. Zeus heads to the underworld to talk to Hades (Ralph Fiennes) about stopping the evil, but he is unable to stop himself from being taken prisoner. The unknown evil, through some mysterious magical technology that isn’t worth thinking about, drains Zeus of his powers. Meanwhile, it sends smoldering beasties that look like swashbuckling turds to attack human beings at random. These rouse Perseus to action, whereupon he decides to follow Zeus’s advice, whereupon the movie is required to remember what Zeus’s advice was exactly, whereupon it actually does remember that the advice added up to: Perseus, I need you to zip around the seas collecting teammates (including Bill Nighy, the movie’s one good performer) and solving riddles until you find yourself in a climactic battle, at which point I’ll have gotten my power back and will be able to help you destroy the big evil and become a hero again.
Wrath of the Titans moves fast, as if trying to catch up with the unconvincing “rides” that its CGI and 3D effects continually thrust in the audience’s face. So fast, in fact, you’ll lose track of which riddle or obstacle or enemy Perseus is battling, and instead latch onto one of the film’s many action sequence or 3D “rides” for excitement. But, and the fact that this is being pointed out should indicate the level of care and precision Wrath of the Titans has put into its story, when there is nothing to justify the computer’s images, there is nothing to feel while watching the movie.