Monday, April 9, 2012

Capsule reviews: Wrath of Titans, Hunger Games

Happy Easter Monday. If you're like us, you're benefiting nicely from a well deserved day off. If not...well, sorry about that. Didn't mean to make you feel bad or anything. Oh, I have an idea that might cheer you up. Here are a couple of capsule reviews!
Wrath of the Titans (2012, Jonathan Liebesman)

Two years ago, at around this time of year if memory serves me well, Clash of the Titans opened in theatres across North America and was decisively lambasted for a shoddy script, shoddy acting, shoddy computer generated effects and, worst of all, egregious up-converted 3D effects. The criticisms were...mostly deserved, but because of my interest in bastardized Greek Mythology, I still had a good time with it. Call it a guilty pleasure and toss me in the jail cell.

The sequel, Wrath of the Titans, shifts the action several years after the original. Perseus (Sam Worthington), demi-god son to Zeus (Liam Neeson) is now a single father trying to make an honest living as a fisherman. It turns out Zeus's brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has called upon some help from another demi-god, Ares (Edgar Ramirez) to awaken the father of all gods, a gigantic fire monster named Kronos (no explanation as to where Kronos may have come from). Perseus thus sees himself forced to save the day again, this time with Queen Adromeda (Rosemund Pike) and Agenor (Toby Kebbell). Cyclops, Monitaur and Kronos beware! May the odds be ever in you- no, wait, wrong movie.

Movies are made to be hated by most people. The story is, again, on the shoddy side of things and by now it seems rather safe to conclude that Sam Worthington, while he may continue to 'star' in movies, will never be himself much of an actor in the proper sense of the term. Despite these crucial shortcomings, the film ends up being not half bad, all things considered. True enough, while the plot is tad mechanical (often the case in these special effects orgies) at least there is something going on here, that being the bonds that tie family together and how they are strained in the land of men and gods in this mythological Greece. There is a lot of brother-brother and father-son material driving the characters' motivations, something that lifts the quality of the script slightly. High class and artistic it is not, but I appreciated the attempt. Whereas Clash really was kind of vacuous in terms of characterizations, Wrath goes for something.  Neeson and Fiennes are once again having a ball playing the two powerful gods. Visually, Wrath is starkly different from Clash. The latter was quite lush whereas the former aims for a much grimier look. It's different, not necessarily better, but different. The monsters are very cool though, especially the cyclops and Kronos, who makes an awe inspiring entrance in the late stages of the film. The minotaur is wasted though.

The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross)

Based on the impressively popular young adult book of the same name, The Hunger Games transports audiences to a unspecified future in the United States where, in the years following a rebellion which failed to overthrow the regime in place, an annual gladiatorial-like event is held to commemorate the aforementioned battle. The catch is that the contestants are only 12-18 years old and randomly selected from each district. As the event's organizers love to yell into the mics in anticipation of the oncoming bloodbath: May the odds be ever in your favour! Contestants Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are the two fighters from their district, a poor, desolate region where hunting squirrels appears to be an actual source of food. Together they make their way through the forestland where 22 others young ones are after them and each other.

Let it be known that The Hunger Games is, by and large, a good movie. It's cast ranges from competent to very solid. This in includes the work done by the young stars themselves as well as that of the older supporting players, like Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks. The world building (this is a dystopian future after all) is rather convincing and feels just oppressive enough without resorting to any needlessly hard R material. Perhaps the film's strongest element is its handling of the love story between Katniss and Peeta. Katniss is a strong willed character who does not, in truth, have any deep feelings for Peeta. The same cannot be said for the young man, who is very much in love with the girl he will have to kill if he is ever to survive the Games. The trick to succeed in the Games however, especially considering that they are televised to the world, is to earn to good will of various sponsors, who will then supply you with helpful tools in mid-match. Thus, in an effort to gain support from viewers, Katniss and Peeta engage in a romantic fling. It is contrived, but it is supposed to be contrived because that is what the public wants. It's an intelligent decision on the part of the movie, playing on today's pitiful love story standards in television and film.

The film's major weakness is in the fights themselves, which are neither tension filled nor well filmed. This is shaky cam technique times ten, where everything is extremely difficult to see. For a movie that was built up as an action adventure film, the craftsmanship in this department is sorely lacking. The movie is also a tad long. Clocking in at nearly 2 1/2 hours, one wonders what the product would have been like if limited to 90 or 105 minutes. I think a brisker pace would have benefited the movie greatly. Nevertheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting stab a young adult action movie with a few more brains than most of the other stuff studios release these days.

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