Much of the fun of 2008s Taken was watching beloved thespian Liam Neeson go all Chuck Norris in a dirty little Euro trash thriller.
In the action adventure movie Neeson played a former “preventer” for the US government. A specialist in black ops, he was an undercover agent who contained volatile situations before they got out of control. Retired, he lived in Los Angeles near his estranged seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). When she is kidnapped by a child slavery ring he has only 96 hours to use his “particular set of skills” to get her back. His rescue mission takes him on a wild rampage through the soft underbelly of Paris. “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to,” he says.
It’s a down-and-dirty little flick, classed up somewhat by the presence of Neeson in the lead role and it became an unexpected lightening-in-a-bottle hit. It also redefined Neeson’s recent career.
At an age when many actors are staring down the barrel of character parts and cameos, the sixty-one year old has made an unlikely U-turn into action movies. “I was a tiny bit embarrassed by it, “ he says of Taken, “but then people started sending me action scripts.”
Arguably best known for his Best Actor Oscar nomination as the charismatic but humble German businessman Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, the Irish actor has fully embraced his new career path. Vanity Fair even acknowledged the twist in an article called, “Wham! Bam! Thank You, Liam!”
His latest actioner is Non-Stop, a high-flying thriller that takes place on an international crossing from New York to London. Neeson is an air marshal who must prevent a crazed killer from murdering passengers in flight.
The actor’s rebirth as a gun-toting, neck snapping gravel-voiced Stallonite™—aging action star—works not only because he has the physical presence to be taken seriously as a hard man, but also because he has the acting chops to make us believe him as a ruthless and efficient killing machine.
Taken and Taken 2 (which were essentially the same movie) worked not just because the action sequences were out of control, but because audiences had some empathy for Neeson’s character as he kicked butt across Europe. It was a personal mission; he was trying to get his daughter back.
Action movies like Wrath of the Titans, The Grey and Unknown may not burnish Neeson’s rep as a great thespian, but when asked why he keeps making them, he has a solid reason: “Because they’re dumb enough to offer them to me!”
Before one big battle scene in “Wrath of the Titans,” the visually epic sequel to the 2010 cheesefest “Clash of the Titans,” Zeus (Liam Neeson), says, “Let’s go have some fun.” I’m still waiting for the fun.
Set in a world where the Gods have lost their power because people stopped believing in them, the only thing standing between oblivion and the survival of the human race is demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington). Battling his half brother Ares (Édgar Ramírez), his uncle Hades (Ralph Fiennes) he must rescue his father Zeus from the underworld and prevent the ancient Titans from literally unleashing hell on earth.
Judging by the young woman sitting next to me “Wrath of the Titans” is a twelve text movie. With her eyes glued to her small hand held screen, she pretty much ignored the action in front of her on the big screen. As much as I HATE texting in movies–and I really do–I can’t say I blame her.
The movie follows the usual blockbuster movie template of an action scene every ten minutes or so, loosely connected by little bits of story, it’s Greek Mythology for Dummies’ some clichéd dialogue and a flying horse. There’s a lot of action, but because all those scenes look pretty much the same–they’re dark and it’s often hard to tell what’s going on–they don’t have much punch.
Couple that with an over reliance on computer generated images and you have a movie that tries to entertain the eye and little else.
In a movie where anything is possible–visually, anyway–Images fill the screen, but fail to ignite the imagination. The over reliance on the green screen and binary code combo that dominates the movie’s look has none of the charm of legendary Ray Harryhausen creatures that had the advantage of looking and feeling hand made.
On the plus side, “Wrath” has a sense of humor about itself. Most of the jokes are intentional, but it’s hard to take Neeson and Fiennes seriously as they bond together like some kind of immortal Bobbsey Twins. The rest of the cast fades into the background. Worthington must be a master of green screen acting by now; he has the art of reacting at nothing down to a science and Rosamund Pike looks good in 3D, but is little more than eye candy in a movie dominated by men and weird looking creatures.
“Wrath of the Titans” is about primal story elements–good and evil, mortality, betrayal and daddy issues–but is more concerned with the pictures than the script.