Sunday, April 1, 2012

Short Take: "John Carter" and "Wrath of the Titans".

If you thought Clash of the Titans was forgettable, Wrath of the Titans seems to have been made exclusively to steals its title as most forgettable movie ever. This time around Zeus (Liam Neeson) recruits his stubborn son Perseus (Sam Worthington) to save the world from his evil half-brother Ares (Edgar Ramírez) who has formed an alliance with Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to kill the gods and unleash Cronos from his underworld prison. As is the norm with movies featuring villains that want to destroy the planet, nobody ever really specifies where the villains would move to after the apocalypse, but who cares because you know Perseus will indeed save the day.
The problem with Sam Worthington embodying a world savior isn't really that he's extremely flat (which he undeniably is despite the 3D effects) but that he makes everyone around him become just as bland. Watch him literally suck the life out of Rosamund Pike, who tries as she may, fails to to make her warrior queen Andromeda remotely interesting. Worthington only comes off better when he's next to the obnoxious Toby Kebbell who plays Agenor, son of Neptune. 
Watching the way in which director Jonathan Liebesman cheapens the concept of Greek mythology, you can't help but wander in your head and wonder why has Hollywood made such a hard effort to uglify everything? When compared to the way movies were made in the past, in which legendary actors played supporting roles (everyone from Brando to Olivier) and Greeks were always spotless, you have to wonder if the filmmakers behind this really think that watching Perseus dirty will make any difference and invite us to identify with him.
Everyone in this movie is either dirty or looks smelly, which not only fails to humanize their adventure, it's also preposterous to be watching in 3D. The visual effects in this movie are also so unimaginative that you wish they would've just stuck to voiceovers to describe what was going on. Lucky for you, by the time the film is over you probably will have already forgotten you saw it, which might be the only truly divine intervention that occurs here.

It seems that unless your name is James Cameron, you should be forbidden from trying to emulate the wow factor that George Lucas introduced to the space-fantasy genre with Star Wars. Why? Because most filmmakers lack the guts to go all through in their visions of new worlds and instead of imposing a brand new set of rules, they adhere strictly to previous visual references. Reason why everything in John Carter seems to have been done, and much better, in other movies.
Taylor Kitsch stars as the title hero, a US Civil War vet who accidentally gets transported to Mars where as a Messiah he helps solve various crises, including toning down the violence among a group of four-armed aliens who regard him as a sort of Spartacus figure and getting involved in a civil war between humanoids. Of course he ends up falling for a sexy princess (Lynn Collins) who makes him wonder if home is where the heart is and considering that the film's original title was John Carter of Mars you kinda know where this one's headed to.
Directed by Andrew Stanton of WALL-E and Finding Nemo fame, it's rather surprising that the film feels so lacking in imagination. Every scene is either a blatant ripoff or an "homage" to movies like Gladiator, Avatar, Star Wars etc. and there's obviously nothing wrong with showing off your ability to stylishly reference other works (Tarantino has forged an entire career out of said gimmick) the problem is when you're excessively reverential or, eek, just plain dull.
Despite a superb star turn by Kitsch, who seriously does more than show off his impeccable body by giving Carter a soulful desperado vibe, the movie comes off as taking itself too seriously. By the time the characters are done talking about Martian myths, social issues and backstabbing, you have pretty much lost all interest in the fact that the movie promised you Indiana Jones like treats.
You can practically see Stanton's sweat drop down his forehead as he composed every frame carefully trying to show off his skills as a visual artist, yet the creatures, costumes and design in the movie feel lacking. The color palettes are arid and fail to arrest your senses. Watching John Carter feels like traversing a desert, which ought to mean big business for theater concessionary stands but just makes the audience wish they'd just get to the oasis and be done with it.

Wrath of the Titans *
John Carter **

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