File this one under Sequels Nobody Wanted. Though the 2010 remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen cult item Clash of the Titans was unbearably dull, it apparently managed to scare up enough post-Avatar business (it was the first big 3-D title to open in the James Cameron blockbuster’s wake, and it also starred Sam Worthington) to convince the suits that a follow-up was in order. While it sticks to the basic formula of the earlier film (take random myths, place in Cuisinart, hit “Blend”), Wrath at least has the good sense to try to have a little fun with its mince-myth premise. It’s better than Clash, but it’s still not particularly good.
Putting the complex rivalries and filial backstabbery of the Greek myths into an easy-to-digest framework, Wrath opens with our demigod hero Perseus having renounced his divinity, living as a fisherman and playing doting father to his son Helius. Then his father, Zeus (Liam Neeson), shows up and tells him that with people praying so much less these days, the gods are losing their power. Whatever societal problems this mass lack of faith might imply, there’s a far more immediate threat on the horizon: With the gods weakening, Kronos, the vengeful father Zeus himself deposed and imprisoned eons ago, is about to be unleashed and rain hellfire on the world (or something). Perseus is reluctant to join in the battle, but then Zeus is betrayed by his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his other son Ares (Édgar Ramirez, looking kind of puffy), and some demons from the underworld almost kill Helius, and soon enough our demigod hero is on his way, with several companions in tow.
Not unlike Clash, Wrath’s real inspiration isn’t so much the Greek myths themselves as it is the Lord of the Rings films, with their episodic journey narratives interrupted by elaborate battles and their fondness for rocky cliffs breaking up and disintegrating while people fight on them. The whole thing clicks along serviceably, albeit without much inspiration. There are some nice images: Kronos looks like a walking volcano, which, let’s face it, is kind of cool. Worthington is mostly a blank slate, but not in an entirely bad way; he’s got that same quizzical expression Mark Wahlberg often has, but without Wahlberg’s physical presence, so it’s easier to imagine him bouncing around like a CG action hero. Bill Nighy shows up as a rather dotty Hephaestus at one point and gets all the best lines, almost as if he brought aboard his own private screenwriter. One imagines what might have happened if similar care had been put into the rest of these characters.
It’s a shame, really, that Wrath of the Titans is so mired in contemporary corporate action-movie clichés when it’s got the potential for so much more. Whenever Fiennes and Neeson are left to their own devices, you can feel the energy of the film increase a bit. [Insert “Release the Kraken” joke here.] At one point, Hephaestus reveals that he designed the elaborate underground prison of Tartaros (where Kronos is kept), with an eye toward human fallibility: “The mind is the greatest trap of all,” he says. “You’ve got to control your feelings so you don’t turn on each other.” We get excited that the film is about to give us some elaborate mind-games and some tense intra-hero rivalries, but really, all that happens to Perseus when he enters Tartaros is that he hallucinates for a few seconds about his son. Then he clobbers a minotaur. It’s all just wasted opportunities.