Leave it to Father Steve Grunow to extract a deep, contemporary theological message from a "sword-and-sandal" flick. But that's why he does this. He's that good. And he didn't fall asleep during the movie, as Father Barron did. Take a mid-Holy Week break to brush up on the recently released "Wrath of the Titans" and read on.
Director Jonathon Liebesman presents the Gotterdammerung of the Olympian deities in “Wrath of the Titans,” the sequel to the remake of the cheesy ‘80s classic, “Clash of the Titans.” Both the classic and its remake took us on a hero’s quest to save a princess in distress, overcome the mayhem caused by gods and mortals, and defeat a monster of gargantuan proportions.
The story is that of Perseus, the offspring of one of Zeus’ dalliances with a mortal maiden. In the original ‘80s version of “Clash of the Titans,” Perseus was a charming fellow with a pleasant disposition who was willing to accept the challenges of his heroic quest with a shrug of his shoulders and an attitude that killing gorgons and slaying krakens is all in a day’s work.
In the remake, Perseus (Sam Worthington) was presented as an angry young man whose petulance and insecurity was matched only by those same qualities in his father, Zeus. His anger seems to have calmed a bit in the new film. Fatherhood has softened his rough edges, enabling him to be a little more sympathetic to his own father, the god Zeus, than he was in the prequel.
The conceit of both “Clash” and “Wrath” is that the gods are being starved of their powers by mortals who refuse to feed them with their prayers. In this respect, the plot is following a motif of projecting modern culture’s skepticism about religion into the ancient past.
Previous sword-and-sandal efforts have followed this trajectory (“300” and “Immortals”), and “Wrath of the Titans” seems to want to remind us that whatever humanity was willing to believe in the past, we are now safely beyond such things (pre-modern people can just be so childish!). I’m glad to have the lesson because prior to such cinematic instruction I was thinking on a lark of reviving the Eleusinian Mysteries. Thank you, Hollywood!
The consequence of humanity’s refusal to pray in the first movie is that hungry gods become very angry and make terrible decisions. The starving gods unleashed a regional apocalypse in the first film, and now the world is literally ending as the Olympians lack the strength to hold back the titans from destroying the whole cosmos.
Perseus, now retired as a fisherman and a widower with a young son, finds himself in the thick of all this. If he was humanity’s savior before, now he must save both gods and men. The guy just can’t catch a break. Must he do everything?
He must and he does.
Perseus gathers an action-adventure team and descends to Tartarus to free his father, Zeus, who is being drained of his divine powers to feed the dormant titan, Kronus. Once unleashed, Kronus will destroy the world. Perseus arrives in the nick of time, but the powers of his father are so diminished that Perseus must face Kronus (who takes the form of a huge lava monster) alone in giant hand-to-flying horse combat.
Wielding the weapons of the gods, Perseus is able to defeat Kronus. But in the wake of the battle, the power of the gods has been utterly spent. Zeus crumbles into dust before muttering to Perseus that the time of gods and sacrifices has ended. The twilight of the gods brings about a secular age. Perseus hands his sword off to his son, indicating that with the end of the gods, heroism can still go on.
Hooray for us! We don’t have to bother wasting time praying or worrying about when either the gods or the titans might interfere with our plans. We can build skyscrapers and strip malls instead of temples and altars. Let the party begin.
The makers of this movie seem to labor mightily to give this film something more than just whiz-bang CGI effects, but just can’t muster enough resolve in this respect. They try to interject some pathos into the story by highlighting the conflicts of fathers and sons and the agony wrought by sibling rivalry, but this all seemed so ancillary to the plot that it became merely filler to permit us to catch our breath between monsters.
If you are looking for battles between humans, gods and monsters, then “Wrath of the Titans” has what you want. If you desire anything else, prepare to be disappointed.
I am waiting for a film that is willing to take the gods of the Greeks seriously and the faith of the Greeks in their gods as something worthy of our consideration, rather than as a means to buttress the claims of secularist hegemony. Unfortunately, the ancient religion of the Greeks, a multivalent, densely textured faith of ritual and story that once engendered and supported a rich and complex civilization, has been reduced to children’s stories and video games. Alas!
The film “Immortals” did better with the gods than either “Clash” or “Wrath,” but still stumbled because it could not permit the gods to be delivered on the terms with which the ancient Greeks believed in them. “Clash” and “Wrath” are angrier at the gods than the ancient Greeks ever believed the gods were with us.
I didn’t really get a sense from the film that things had vastly improved with their passing. In fact, the world and humanity became a heck of a lot less interesting without the gods than it was with them. In trying the subvert humanity’s religious aspirations, the movie actually made the case for clinging to them.
It might just be that many folks think that Christians believe in God in the same way that the ancient Greeks believed in their gods. Not many Bible studies or opportunities for catechesis are willing to examine the first ten books of Saint Augustine’s “City of God” or clarify Aquinas’ distinction that what we call God is not a being, even a supreme being that is one among many things in the cosmos.
As such, people might think that what Christianity does is get rid of most of the old gods by reducing their number to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this respect, many might be inclined to believe that, like the gods in “Clash” and “Wrath,” the God of Christian Faith needs our prayers and could be dispensed with by depriving him of this nourishment.
If we just didn’t pay him any attention, he would just go away.
It might be a surprise to learn that the God revealed in Christ not only doesn’t need our prayers to be who he is, but he also doesn’t need us or the universe to be himself. This might shock not only many Christians, but also their detractors. And it should. We generally associate Christian claims about God with sentiment and speculation, but are less able to make the connection that it is from Christianity's claims about the unique nature of God that we see a real difference between the gods of mythology and the God of Jesus Christ.
Into this flows the bold assertion that what is revealed in the God of Christian faith is very much unlike the gods of the pagans or the god that Christianity’s cultured despisers claim that we believe in. The Church has not been working hard enough to show this distinction, and the current state of cultural antagonism toward the Faith is the result. If Christians themselves cannot appreciate and understand what is so distinctive about their God, why should anyone else?
If we leave the impression that the God revealed in Christ is even kind of like Zeus, we shouldn’t be surprised that people get fed up with him and like the characters in “Wrath of the Titans” are content to live as if he doesn’t really exist.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He also knows how to stay awake at the movies.