The Titan review – unexciting Netflix sci-fi squanders its premise

Sam Worthington is a lifeless protagonist in a film about a government genetics experiment to evolve man into space

Sam Worthington, the 41-year-old Australian actor, has become something of a sci-fi mainstay. And despite his unimpeachably good looks, directors keep turning him into aliens, or quasi-human hybrids, or terminators. Most recently, in the new Netflix release The Titan, Worthington plays a military man who’s subject to an insane government-funded genetic experiment, causing him to lose his hair, shed his skin, and acquire, among other strange metamorphoses, bat DNA. By the end of the film, he looks a lot like his character in Avatar, in other words far from the chiseled handsome actor he actually is.

I have an idea why he seems to constantly be utilized – effaced, really – in such a way, and it’s because Sam Worthington is perhaps the blandest actor alive.

This isn’t an undiscovered thesis. A Google search for “Sam Worthington Boring” fetches some 250,000 results. But Worthington’s staleness, his mesmerizing aversion to evincing even the slightest interest in the script at hand or his fellow actors in frame, is especially startling in The Titan, directed by Lennart Ruff (his first feature) and co-starring Taylor Schilling of Orange is the New Black.

Worthington and Schilling are Rick and Abigail Janssen, a husband and wife with a young son. The year is 2048, and due to overpopulation and an unexplained nuclear event that leaves Los Angeles uninhabitable, the family is relocated to a large, seaside Nato base, where Rick and other servicemen and women become the unassuming lab rats in an elaborate, $300m research experiment headed by a state-sanctioned quack scientist (the menacing Tom Wilkinson).

The plan, the Janssens believe, is to administer various injections that will allow the subjects to populate Titan, the only moon in the solar system with a nitrogen-heavy atmosphere sufficient to accommodate humans. Instead of “trying to shape climate in our image”, says the scientist, they are “evolving humanity into the stars”. What the subjects don’t know is that these experiments, which include military-style training overseen by the Department of Defense, will soon cause them to sprout gills, go blind, and, in some cases, barbarically kill their spouses in a kind of steroidal rage.

Schilling, consigned to the role of Concerned and Suspicious Wife, watches fearfully as her husband mutates. “There is something alive inside of him,” she says. “He is changing.” In one clumsily symbolic shot, his fingers grow so large and deformed that his wedding ring no longer fits. All the while, the two are living in the super-modern, coastal mansion the DoD put them up in, fraternizing with the other test subjects who are experiencing similar bodily horror. What exactly they’re turning into – a new species called Homo titanians – is mostly concealed until Schilling’s Dr Janssen breaks into the laboratory and finds out for herself. The cat, or rather the alien-amphibian crossbreed, is out of the bag!

Imagining The Titan with a lead other than Worthington conjures up only a marginally more compelling film. After all, Janssen is silent for the second half of the movie, so it’s hard to see a Chris Evans or a Michael Fassbender or a Henry Cavill salvaging a film that so spectacularly squanders its premise. The choice of actor wouldn’t fix a tired screenplay (“The last people to try this were the Nazis,” yells one incredulous potential whistleblower) and a series of missed opportunities, including an utterly unexciting climax and far too much fidelity to genre tropes (a looming apocalypse; a eugenics experiment gone awry; the fate of the world resting on the shoulders of one intrepid, happily married man).

A more interesting film might focus on how one actually goes about colonizing a moon, instead of ducking its premise for more hackneyed government corruption fodder. A more interesting film might also not star Sam Worthington, who was on the money when he offered this assessment of his performance in Clash of the Titans: “I think I can act fucking better, to be honest.” I hope he’s right, but in view of The Titan, I’m hedging my bets.

  • The Titan is on Netflix from 30 March in most territories and will be released in cinemas in the UK from 13 April


Jake Nevins

The GuardianTramp

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