It may have been beyond woeful, but a $500m box office return pretty much guaranteed that Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans was going to get a sequel. Picking up ten years later, the new story – if you want to call it that – follows Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus, as he is once again forced to do battle with mythological monsters to save humanity from annihilation. If Wrath of the Titans could be labelled a success, it would only be because of the bottomless expectations created by its predecessor. But at the end of the day, the improvement, especially in the script department, needed to be much more dramatic than it is. Cooler visuals and a faster pace cannot rescue this Hollywood cash-grab from simplistic dialogue, wooden characters and action without tension or consequence.
Since the events of the first film, Perseus (Perth boy Sam Worthington; Man on a Ledge) has fathered a son, and pledged to his now dead wife that the boy will never have to wield a sword. Of course that’s all well and good, until Hades (Ralph Fiennes; Coriolanus) decides to release his monstrous father Kronos – a 1000 foot lava monster – from the chains of his magical prison. Big brother Zeus (Liam Neeson; The A-Team) comes to Perseus for aid, and while sonny is initially hesitant, he changes his tune once dad is taken prisoner by uncle Hades, who is being aided by the traitorous God of War Ares (Edgar Ramirez; Carlos), who also happens to be Zeus’ son and Perseus’ half brother. Basically it’s just one big family squabble worthy of a Jerry Springer special, not a 99 minute swords and sandals epic.
Taking over directing duties from Leterrier is Battle: Los Angeles helmsman Jonathan Liebesman, who is quick to start the ball rolling with effects-heavy action set-pieces that are, quick frankly, the only reason people come to see these movies in the first place. Irritatingly, it’s all shot in the same barely comprehensible shaky-cam style that Hollywood has increasingly come to favour, ensuring that even when the visuals impress, there’s never a sense of geography or excitement. Moreover, none of the action has much purpose or consequence; it occurs when the script requires it to, regardless of narrative sense. The CGI is breathtaking though, and on the rare moments when the camera stops wobbling, it is quite the spectacle to behold.
In any case, even when the action is unintelligible, it’s at least better than listening to the characters talk. As I remarked when writing on the previous film, it’s astounding that with so much money being thrown around, so little appears to be allocated to the writers. The dialogue is embarrassingly simplistic, with characters often literally outlining the plot or explaining what it is their looking at, as if the audience were unable to keep up. Which would be bad enough if the story were in the least bit complicated. But as with Clash, the run-of-the-mill questing in the sequel is nothing more than padding, a means of stretching out the story until the hopefully epic finale. At least Liebesman doesn’t drop the ball in that regard; Kronos proves a much more formidable baddie than the over-hyped cock-tease that was Leterrier’s gargantuan Kraken.
Expectedly, the actors do little. Sam Worthington could not sound less Greek if he tried, although from a physical standpoint he’s a hell of a lot more convincing than the blonde, waif-like Rosamund Pike (Johnny English Reborn) as a Mediterranean queen. Fiennes and Neeson are once again wasted, as is Edgar Ramirez making poor career choices after his phenomenal, award winning performance in Olivier Assayas’ Carlos. Only Bill Nighy (Underworld) and Toby Kebell (RocknRolla) are any fun at all, probably because they’re the only actors who aren’t required to pretend that they’re taking things seriously.
Visually, Wrath of the Titans does have a lot more going for it than its predecessor. The design of the creatures and settings – especially of Kronos’ subterranean prison – are particularly impressive, and the 3D is also vastly improved. On an IMAX screen, some of the extended zooms through the underworld take on a rollercoaster-like quality, which is probably the kind of sensation you want from a big-budget blockbuster like this one. But even audiences who are only interested in a mindless thrill ride could do better than this. Still in cinemas, The Raid has far, far superior action, while The Hunger Games features a decidedly more interesting protagonist. If things keep improving, perhaps the next film in the Titans saga will be worth recommending. But until then, I say give the series a miss.