'Wrath of the Titans' and the Sam Worthington Experiment: Is this guy really an action star?

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Sam Worthington seems like a nice guy. I have no concrete evidence to back up that statement. I’ve never met him. If I ever do meet him, we will be talking across the heavily-mediated psychological divide that separates journalists and celebrities. Moreover, Sam Worthington is a successful actor. Normal actors are usually half-crazy. Successful actors are usually hermetically sealed paranoid demi-god therapy cases. And yet, Worthington projects a vibe that can only be described as “pleasantly neutral.” You don’t read stories about him in the tabloids. Whenever he hits the talk-show circuit, he’s amiable and self-deprecating. He also has the fashion sense of a middle-aged suburban Jimmy Buffett fan: Witness the Tommy Bahama shirts he recently rocked on Conan and The Tonight Show. He lacks the polish of media training, and he has the endearing quality of anxiously rubbing his hands together during interviews. He doesn’t mind talking about Avatar, a film he started working on nearly five years ago. Moreover, he seems remarkably serene about his post-Avatar career prospects: When he appeared on Letterman in 2010, he joked, “It’s all downhill from here, mate.” Except you got the sense that he wasn’t joking, and he didn’t care.

Like everyone else in Hollywood, Worthington came to Comic-Con last year, but unlike everyone else in Hollywood, Worthington was actually there for comics. Alongside his friends John and Michael Schwarz, he created his own independent comic book, Damaged. I mean it as a complete compliment when I say that I love the fact that he created Damaged, even though I have no interest whatsoever in reading it. (Check out this IGN interview with Worthington and the Schwarzes at Comic-Con. Note anxious hand-rubbing.)

Worthington starred in Avatar, a film which grossed $2.7 billion and announced a whole new era in 3-D filmmaking. Worthington also starred in Clash of the Titans, a film which grossed almost $500 million and immediately poisoned the new era of 3-D filmmaking by giving it the unmistakable stench of a Hollywood cash-grab. In Clash, Worthington played Perseus, the son of Zeus. To put it bluntly, he let the audience down by not delivering a character. He was a f—ing generic, bland action dude. He was like a Barbie doll. He dropped the ball. Does that sound harsh? It is. It’s also, apparently, precisely how Sam Worthington described his own role.

Mind you, Worthington is saying that in the context of promising that the movie’s sequel, Wrath of the Titans, will be much better. It’s not, but the badness of Wrath isn’t Worthington’s fault. Like pretty much every other action movie made in Hollywood today, Wrath of the Titans is essentially a cartoon shot like a student documentary, an awkward merging of relentless special effects and Bourne-esque shaky cam and editing so incoherent it can cause nosebleeds. It’s a movie where actors are only called upon to deliver expository dialogue and occasionally stare up into the sky looking scared.

In that sense, it’s beginning to feel like Worthington is becoming one of many Hollywood Ken Dolls — a slightly sad-looking blank, a hero-shaped blob that could have feasibly been poured into TRON: Legacy or John Carter or Transformers or X-Men: First Class or Cowboys & Aliens. I’m not dissing those movies — just most of them — but besides the first half-hour of First Class, none of them let their lead actors show any interesting emotion, or explore any interesting line readings. Indeed, the modern action movie barely even seems interested in letting actors act.

I don’t get the sense that Sam Worthington is particularly worried about that. Being a sad-looking greenscreen man-bot pays well in Hollywood. Worthington currently has his name on two franchises. (Potentially, he’s linked to a third, The Terminator.) They’re already working on a third Titans movie, which let’s call Slash of the Titans just for fun. And there are two Avatar sequels perpetually on the horizon — and based on the end of Avatar, we won’t even see actual human Sam Worthington at all in those sequels, just his blue-skinned caveman alter ego.

But even though he recently starred in the dull Man on a Ledge, you get the sense that Worthington could be doing more — and maybe he will, when he’s built himself a Titans nest egg. In last year’s little-seen indie Last Night, he played a dude married to Keira Knightley and being seduced by Eva Mendes, and still somehow came off as a wounded everyman. In the extremely underrated gem The Debt, he played a Mossad agent adrift in moral uncertainty, and Worthington’s blankness began to seem at once tragic and purposeful — he was playing a man painfully aware that he’d cut himself off from his own emotions. It made you wish that Hollywood still made thrillers, or remembered how to make action movies that cared even a little bit about the humans onscreen.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
EW’s review of ‘Wrath of the Titans’
‘Wrath of the Titans’ scoop: The director discusses why Sam Worthington’s getting gritty
‘Avatar’ star Sam Worthington: A sex symbol for all ages

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