So is it better than the previous one then?
STARRING: Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, Danny Huston, Edgar Ramirez, Bill Nighy, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike
2012, 99 minutes, Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
“Let’s have some fun,” says Zeus late into Wrath of the Titans, a slight improvement upon its 2010 predecessor . . .
Ironically, he speaks the line just prior to yet another humorless battle against a mythological creature (the only actual titan to appear in any of the movies). The fate of the world—what else?—is at stake, after all, so perhaps we can forgive the movie for taking itself a bit too seriously at that point.
Then again, that was the primary issue with the remake of Clash of the Titans, which had no sense of its originator’s cheesy elements and no patience to develop the inherently campy nature of its story. The sequel, which brings with it a different set of screenwriters (Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson) and a new director (Jonathan Liebesman), is a somewhat different beast; there are moments of humor here and there.
That’s not to say it isn’t a bloated adventure that’s more concerned with special effects and massive setpieces than its characters. It is, and even though the plot this time around is more streamlined, the movie still feels like a meandering affair with only the most minimal sense of purpose and drive.
At the start, we’re introduced to the key points of the previous movie, reminding us how little actually happened in it. Perseus (Sam Worthington) discovered his godly origins and killed the mighty sea beast the kraken, hence saving the world. Since then, our demigod hero has retired to a more quiet life as a fisherman with his son Helius (John Bell). He swore to his now deceased wife never to take up a sword again and to ensure that their son would never wield a weapon.
Meanwhile, in the realm of the gods, the deities’ power is diminishing as human beings stop believing in them as much as they did before (making them more like Tinkerbell than the screenwriters might have hoped). Zeus (Liam Neeson), Perseus’ father, is having trouble with his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), ruler of the Underworld, and his son Ares (Édgar Ramírez), the god of war.
All of them know that with their powers fading, their ability to keep Kronos (pronounced three different ways over the course of the movie—just a little consistency is all we ask), the titan father of Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon (Danny Huston), locked up in the Underworld prison of Tartarus is also lessening.
For some unknown reason (revenge, we guess), Hades and Ares decide that unleashing Kronos upon the world of men that has disowned them is the best course of action (That it would hasten their own demise—no people, no belief, no gods—never comes to mind).
Jealousy is key to the iffy motivations of characters here. Ares is jealous of his father’s adoration for Perseus. Hades is envious of his brother’s attention. All the gods are jealous of humanity’s fate to reside in the Underworld after death; ironically or appropriately, all the gods are atheists.
Yes, terrible creatures, like the two-headed chimera (one for fuel, the other for a spark), begin wreaking havoc, and, yes, this causes Perseus to take up his sword again.
Yes, the special effects are more than serviceable (the monsters have some substance to them), and, yes, there’s even a mild feeling of nostalgia for the old days of effects when Perseus must fight a creature in a massive labyrinth (one guess what kind) that is created entirely through makeup without a trace of computer-generated imagery. Even Kronos, who emerges from a mountain (a character’s declaration that “Kronos is near” is a bit of an understatement), has the sort of weighty momentum and jerky movements that echo the stop-motion animation techniques implemented by Ray Harryhausen in the original 1981 movie.
While the gods are caught up in their little melodrama (daddy issues, resentment, forgiveness and last-minute recoveries), the human characters have little more to do than to move from one perilous situation to the next.
Perseus is accompanied on his eventual quest to obtain Kronos’ sons’ weapons to create an all-powerful weapon to defeat the titan by Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), the warrior queen of Greece, and Agenor (Toby Kebbell), another demigod—the reluctant son of Poseidon—and Perseus’ cousin. At least Agenor, who boasts of his reputation as “the Navigator,” isn’t too earnest about the proceedings, and the movie has some fun at its own expense with the introduction of the god Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), who crafted the trio of weapons and now lives a hermit’s life (his only companion is the mechanical owl from the original movie).
His appearance is all-too brief but still significant to the movie’s tone, undermining the excessive heroics and semi-solemn mythology of the story (he knows Perseus as the man of “Release the Kraken and all that” fame). Hephaestus’ absence is also key to the movie’s eventual settling for the very things the character undercut. Imagine the opening narration as done by him instead of Zeus!
At points, Wrath of the Titans seems to understand that its limitations are directly related to how seriously the movie takes itself; at others, its comprehension of that fact is too distracted by beasts and gods and a giant lava monster.