When someone sets out to create a piece of art, “perfectly fine” is probably not the result he is hoping for, but that is the phrase that comes to mind after seeing Wrath of the Titans. It is a serviceable action film that is better than its predecessor, Clash of the Titans, but still never threatens to approach feeling urgent or necessary.
It has been 10 years since the events of Clash of the Titans, in which Perseus (Sam Worthington), the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), slew the giant sea monster called the kraken. After the death of his wife, Io (presumably because Gemma Arterton decided she could do better than this), Perseus is now trying to live a normal life as a fisherman and take care of his son, Helius (John Bell).
For some unknown reason, humans have begun to stop worshiping the gods, which lessens their power. It seems very odd that such worship could diminish in the first place, when the gods could just show up at your house and threaten to smite you unless you make with the oblations. It’s not like they’re shy about interfering in human affairs, after all.
At any rate, with their power decreasing, the gods are having trouble keeping their father, Kronos (although it is never discussed how the gods were sired by what looks to be a giant black lava monster), and the rest of the titans imprisoned in Tartarus, a dungeon buried deep in the underworld.
Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) make a deal with Kronos and capture Zeus, holding him prisoner in the underworld and draining him of his divine power. So, Perseus gathers a band of adventurers, including Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), whom he saved from the kraken in the first movie, and Agenor (Toby Kebbell), the half-human son of Poseidon (Danny Huston), to rescue Zeus and defeat Kronos.
The film was directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles), who keeps the film tightly paced and does a good job of handling the film’s heavy load of special effects. There are a lot of action scenes, and whether the scene involves Perseus fighting a massive Cyclops in the woods, or a giant underworld labyrinth that has huge pieces of stone flying around like clockwork as the characters dodge them, Liebesman makes sure it is fluidly shot and well executed.
The film isn’t really any more subtle or character-driven than the first film, but screenwriters Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson (who also co-wrote the film’s story with Greg Berlanti), dive right in and keep the story moving briskly. Clash of the Titans had a habit of meandering, but here the script has a strong spine that drives the action. The film dives into the story almost immediately, with a minimum of set-up, and stays focused on Perseus’ quest.
The writers also occasionally manage to include a few nice, smaller touches, such as Perseus accidentally snagging his sword on his cape, or Perseus asking Pegasus to make him look cool in front of his son as he and the winged horse fly off.
The actors do their best to class up the joint. Neeson and Fiennes do a much better job here than in the first film of suggesting Zeus and Hades’ brotherly relationship, with its festering resentments and long-buried affection, but that may have a lot to do with the material they’re given to play. In the first film, they had little to do besides sneer at each other.
Bill Nighy has fun in a small role as Hephaestus, the fallen god of the forge who helps Perseus acquire the weapons he needs to defeat Kronos and shows him the way into the underworld.
Worthington continues to be adequate but unexciting here, as in most of his other performances. He is a lot like what would happen if Russell Crowe had skipped the Romper Stomper and L.A. Confidential years and went straight to, say, A Good Year or Body of Lies. Worthington is earnest, but has no real fire, although he does have a nice knack for making it look like Perseus is always on the verge of losing whatever fight he’s in.
Pike replaces Alexa Davalos, who played Andromeda in the first film. Perhaps Davalos jumped ship because she realized there was not really a character for her to play in the first place. Pike does her best with a very thin role, being as stalwart and noble as she is required to be, but Andromeda makes it all the way through the movie without having anything of substance to do.
Competent but never particularly thrilling, Wrath of the Titans delivers decent action with a minimum of fuss. That may be damning with faint praise, but at least the movie is better than Clash of the Titans. If the series continues at this rate of improvement, then after two or three more installments they will have a genuinely good film.