Even taking into account the continued dominance of The Hunger Games in the public consciousness, some observers were suprised by the weak box-office showing of Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans, during its opening weekend. Perhaps people were under the impression that they'd already seen the sequel to the Clash remake last fall when Tarsem Singh's fantasia hit theaters. Between the impression made by the 2010 Clash, best remembered for "Release the Kraken!" and the likely response to the pseudo sequel that was Immortals -- it even had Titans in it! -- I can understand why few people would want to see another sequel.
Over the course of an epic bender, King Hyperion of the Herculoids, or was it Heracleans (Mickey Rourke) has managed to conquer much of the known world, putting the "Hellenics" to flight or to the sword. Apparently this all started because he wanted a bow -- the Epirus Bow, a bitchin' weapon from the long-ago war of immortals. Legend says that the victors of that war dubbed themselves "gods," while labelling the losers "titans," as if "titan" was some sort of insult. From that account, you'd think there was no real difference between the two except that one side won and the other lost. In fact, the gods are buff, rangy he-men led by Zeus (Luke Evans), with their own Warrior Smurfette in the form of Athena (Isabel Lucas), while the titans are sort of like elves with a rage virus. Zeus put them in a cage inside Mt. Tartarus, but because the Epirus Bow is such an awesome weapon Hyperion is sure that it would free them, presuming that the bow fires arrows of some sort. It could only go great with his terrifying Fanged Rabbit helmet. Only he doesn't know where it is. Maybe a Virgin Oracle would know, but they tend to stick together and talk in their own special language and kill a fool who lays hands on them. Being a wise king, Hyperion has others lay hands on them. Those who survive end up only with the three amigas of the real A-No. 1 Virgin Oracle, Phaedra (Frieda Pinto), who escapes to look for a hero. Hyperion eventually shoves the women into a bull-shaped oven, possibly planning to snack on them later.
Phaedra sort of knows who she's looking for. Theseus (Henry Cavill) is a bastard and a child of rape, a tall, strapping, barefoot peasant who drew a high number in the refugee lottery for his village now that Hyperion's army is closing in. That means he gets to see Hyperion sack the town and cut his poor mom's throat in a fit of pique. "Witness hell," the king mutters. Before long, Hyperion, Phaedra and the obligatory irreverent rogue (Stephen Dorff) are free and on the run, with the gods rooting them on. That's all they can do with Zeus pulling some prime-directive crap on them. He got to hang out with Theseus disguised as John Hurt for who knows how long, but the boy now needs to prove himself so no god better help him out. See, this isn't a ripoff of Clash of the Titans at all! In that movie, Zeus wants to help Perseus but the sullen lout won't let him. Here, the gods want to help -- heck, I imagine each one of them would like to smite Hyperion so he doesn't -- how shall I put this? -- unleash their (im)mortal enemies -- but Zeus himself won't let them. See? It's different! How different? Maybe Poseidon can get away with killing a bunch of Herculoids with a cannonball dive from the clouds into the oily sea, and maybe Zeus can't say no to his little girl Athena, but when one of the other gods lends a hand to our hero, Zeus puts him through a wall and the sucker is f'n dead! If that's how he runs things, bring on the Titans. And Hyperion, thinking "No fair!" despite Zeus's best efforts, intends to speed that day.
In the course of his adventures Theseus fights "The Beast," a big dude with a bull mask. This had to happen, so I'm told, because some dudes 3,000 years ago or so said that Theseus fought a guy with a bull head. Theseus supposedly did some other stuff like found the city of Athens, but the filmmakers could only verify the fight with the "Minotaur" and so felt obliged to include a version of it in their story. Anyway, Theseus finds the Epirus Bown embedded in a big rock, but then he loses it to the Herculoids. How awesome is this weapon? It does plus-all-the-dice-in-your-house damage to anything its self-generating light arrows touch, especially city walls. Our hero magnificently fails to prevent Hyperion from freeing the Titans, at which point Zeus summons the gang to layeth the smacketh down on those skittering, swarmimg, adorably mindless immortals. Theseus's revenge bout with Hyperion is but a sideshow to the war of the gods for which this film was once going to be named. For someone who on appearances hasn't slept in weeks, Hyperion is pretty good with his hands and has the edge on our hero until Theseus makes what those in the professional wrestling business call the "Superman comeback." But with Zeus about to bring a mountain down on the Titans, which begs the question why he didn't do that in the first place, will Theseus get a chance to fulfill his destiny? Given the global success of the film, we may yet find out.
The Clash of the Titans remake was a wretched affair, but Immortals makes it look like the Iliad. The problem this time isn't the utter unpleasantness of the hero -- Cavill is reasonably earnest and plausible in his role -- but the garish idiocy of the entire project. It was put in the hands of a director with a "visionary" reputation who here seems incapable of directing actors or action. The tableau is his favorite mode of presentation, adding to the overall atmosphere of suffocating fakeness. The picture may have gone over big in theatrical 3-D, but rarely has an aspiring epic seemed so lacking in essential dimensions. It reminded me of the collages of magazine clippings that might decorate the walls of a high-school art class. Immortals is one of the ugliest films I've seen in a long time, and it gets extra ugly points for thinking it's pretty. And yet it almost certainly wasn't the worst film of 2011 - not with such stuff as Green Lantern and Red Riding Hood in the running. And if its existence has actually contributed to strangling the Titans series in its cradle, I suppose it deserves at least one compliment.