This Means War and Wrath of the Titans

June 22, 2012

There’s a relatively tedious, though not unfounded at all, cliché about Hollywood making market-tested films that appeal to x demographic by including x types of characters embodied by beautiful stars and putting them in romantic/funny/exciting/all three situations and BOOM:  Instahit.  It’s generally a lot more complicated than that, as there’s bound to be someone along the creative line who has a whiff of the artist about them, or at the very least actors who know how to work a script in their favour, and a director or an editor who can nurture that into something vaguely entertaining.  I don’t know know anything at all about the development or the production of McG’s This Means War, but if there ever was a film that played right into that cliché about clueless moneymen suits at the studio putting an entire movie together and creating exactly what they think a “successful” (not “good”, mind) product would be, this is it. 

Though it isn’t a B-movie counter-programming “action-comedy” cheapie with Katherine Heigl a la Killers, This Means War is not quite the big budget hopeful-tentpole of Knight and Day either.  Coming in at the higher end of a modest budget, it was certainly released to “win the weekend”, and it featured occasional Hollywood powerhouse McG behind the camera, hunky up-and-comers Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as CIA Agent best friends, and Class A romantic lead Reese Witherspoon as the girl for whose affections they must fight.  A bit of comedy, a bit of romance and scintillating sexiness, and then some above-average action to cap it all off; the girls are happy with the hunks and the romance and the boys are happy with the comedy and the action, and everyone is laughing all the way to the bank.  Except it didn’t do well domestically, and although it will surely make its money back, it will generally be considered a flop.  I don’t know why it didn’t succeed, the vagaries of the box office and the public and all, but it didn’t, and it certainly wouldn’t have picked up anything extra from word-of-mouth, because it must be one of the worst movies of the year.

Witherspoon plays Lauren, the head of a consumer reporting company who has an office seemingly decorated by an Old Navy commercial.  Through a “crazy” “twist” “of” “fate” she meets both Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) on the same day and decides she’s been such an uptight sad sack over the loss of her last serious relationship that she deserves a bit of fun.  She’s encouraged in all of this by her friend Trish, played by Chelsea Handler, who just drinks a lot, talks about sex, and comes up with sub-Samantha quips about “men” and “love” and all those hilarious things.  If that sentence was confusing about its subject, it was meant to be.  So anyway, queue a bunch of woefully immoral acts of privacy invasion on the part of both ladies man FDR and sensitive-guy-with-a-son-and-an-estranged-wife Tuck as they try to work out Lauren’s likes and dislikes, outdo one another on dates, and sabotage the eventual sex (this movie, for all of its unlikable nastiness, is of course completely regressive when it comes sexual mores).  Oh, and there’s a plot about an evil terrorist who wants to kill the guys, but that doesn’t really matter.

This is a movie completely devoid of wit and humour.  McG has no understanding of comedy, romance, chemistry, and apparently action.  The editing is jarring when it’s not flat, and the film looks as blandly glossy and processed as everything else this horrific director has attached his name to.  I don’t expect any better from Pine, and predictably he never rises above his smug stud with a shit-eating grin persona.  I’ll excuse Hardy because he can be a genuinely great actor and he’s not quite broken out yet, despite numerous high profile roles.  It’s Witherspoon that is the biggest disappointment.  Normally so full of cute, neurotic charm and a genuine sense of believable despondency in the rom-com, she’s completely set adrift by a screenplay that wants to muddle her motivations to allow for the sexy fun whilst never violating its strictly regressive morality.  It’s dimwitted and soulless, and it showcases the cynical worst of a heartless industry.  Lauren calls her dueling suitors “products” when she’s attempting to use her focus-group techniques to decide between the two of them.  It might be the wittiest meta-commentary of any movie this year if I thought it was intentional, but I imagine that using focus groups to make decisions was the only truly honest contribution by the executives who put this together.

Elsewhere in the land of corporate cash-ins, the absurdly unnecessary sequel to the totally unnecessary – and incredibly bad – remake of Clash of the Titans has been made, much to the excitement of precisely nobody.  This time called Wrath of the Titans, it sees Perseus (Sam Worthington, sounding more straightforwardly Australian than I remember) being drawn back into the battles of the gods when his father Zeus (Liam Neeson, cashing a check) is captured by Hades (Ralph Fiennes, cashing a check) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez, deserving to cash a big check after Carlos).  The absurdly stupid plot by Hades and Ares is to awaken Kronos (yes, there is actually a TITAN in this one!) from his mountain prison is almost immediately regretted by all involved, but who cares.  This is about watching Perseus and his ragtag band of funtime pals Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Agenor (Toby Kebbell) run about and fly on Pegasus or fight the Minotaur or run about a trio of Cyclopses, which is all as haphazardly strung together as ever, but at least it moves along a bit more briskly this go around.  The effects are improved, with less emphasis on giant crab monsters and more on things like the ever-shifting environments of the labyrinth or the giant lava slings of the Titan himself.

It’s directed by Jonathan Liebesman, of Battle: Los Angeles infamy, with occasional flourishes of spatial relations and some pretty fun effects shots of zooming about and consistent movement.  It is not nearly as poorly edited together as his previous effort, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.  In the end, the film is stolen by Bill Nighy’s enjoyably oddball turn as Hephaestus, creator of the Labyrinth and Tartarus, who hangs out (for no reason whatsoever) with Bubo, that owl from the original that made an appearance in the remake, and it is the single most enjoyable scene in the franchise so far.  Indeed, everyone seems much more at ease in this film, not least of which Huntington, who can give a wry smile here and there and make the odd knowing crack now and again.  It’s stitched together nonsense plot-wise, and it makes no emotional sense at all, and even if these flimsy excuses to see Greek gods and their monsters swan about with swords and sand and fire and lightning aren’t nearly as fun as they should be, this is a definite improvement over its predecessor.  If there is to be a third one, they might approach making an actual “good” movie at this rate, but they’d better be clever.  They’re running out of gods.


2 Responses to “This Means War and Wrath of the Titans”

  1. Greg Says:

    Sooooo, having fallen asleep about 15 times trying to read through this review, if I happened to find myself bored on a Saturday night because no woman would return my phone call. Should I queue up Wrath of the Titans on Netflix (esp. if I have a crush on Rosamund Pike)?

    Perplexed in LA

    • chiaroscurocoalition Says:

      If it’s on Instant, sure. If you have to wait for it to come in via the “mail”, then no, not worth your time.

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