I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised with Wrath of the Titans, not because it’s good, but simply because it’s far better than the utter trainwreck the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans turned out to be. Of course, that’s not exactly a high bar to measure up to.
I’m a fan of the original 1981 Clash of the Titans which gave the story of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) the Hollywood treatment with some terrific stop motion monsters provided by legendary special effects creator Ray Harryhausen. For me, the 2010 supremely awful remake was like watching the entire cast dig up Ray Hauhausen’s grave and with the sole purpose of taking turns defecating on his corpse.
With no direct film to measure up to, Wrath of the Titans is able to craft its own story (such that it is). The story picks up a few years after the end of the first film. Although a legendary hero, Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his young son Helius (John Bell) live simple lives of fishermen.
Their peaceful existence is interrupted by the arrival of Zeus (Liam Neeson) who announces that since fewer and fewer of the Greeks are praying to them the gods power has begun to wain (an interesting plot point, especially since it’s cribbed directly from Douglas Adams) to such an extent that the walls of Tartarus have grown weak and are losing control of the imprisoned Titans.
When his son ignores his plea for help Zeus turns to Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Poseidon (Danny Huston), and Ares (Édgar Ramírez) only to find himself betrayed as Hades and Ares decide to help free Kronos and lay waste to the world of men. With the entire world in peril, Persus takes up the quest with the help of Adromeda (Rosamund Pike, by far the best thing about the movie), and another demigod Aegnor (Toby Kebbell). Together the three search out fallen god Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) and set out into the underworld to reach Tartarus and free Zeus before Kronos drains him of all his power and is able to escape.
The film plays to it strengths. Realizing that what they’re making is nothing more than a thinly-veiled video game, screenwriters Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson structure the story accordingly as the group fights their way through increasingly difficult levels. I’m also glad the movie embraces a sense of humor to help balance some of the wooden acting and the bloodsed. There are also some nice set pieces including the constantly adapting labyrinth of Tartarus which the three find themselves lost in at one point of the movie.
At some point, however, the film simply becomes CGI overload as the film is constantly throwing out new monsters and challenges, some of which work far better than others. The most disappointing creation is the film’s major baddie Kronos, the father of the Greek Gods who is presented as a giant CGI lava monster with absolutely no personality who is destroyed by a lance despite the fact the god has no vital organs such a tiny weapon could do any damage to (in one of the film’s many sequences that make absolutely no sense).
The movie’s other big failing is the lack of dramatic tension. For a story about a demigod attempting to save all of creation there’s almost nothing about the film, aside from a couple of scenes, that feels epic or larger than life. The lack of tension, and the far too obvious outcome gives us no reason to root for our hero.
With Kronos little more than a giant special effect, Ramirez is asked to play the major villain for most of the film. Sadly, this version of Ares comes off as a grumpy toddler angry that his father is showing his brother some affection. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when he does nothing but sulk and whine for the first two-thirds of the movie.
Because so much of the story is swallowed up by CGI effects rather than flesh-and-blood villains we’re left increasingly with reason to watch the story unfold, but no reason to really care. Even Ares final fight with Perseus, the only part of the final battle between two actors rather than special effects, comes off somewhat laughable given Ares’ whining and the overstated CGI destruction the two leave in their wake.
Even with some wooden acting, far too much CGI, and some trite dialogue about brothers and fathers and sons, Wrath of the Titans does have its moments. It doesn’t have nearly enough for me to recommend the film, but it’s a definite improvement over the first film.