There is one respect in which the 2010 edition of Clash of the Titans absolutely lords over its 1981 predecessor: no Bubo. Have you not seen the 1981 film? Then you have been spared the sight of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen wasting his talents on a little mechanical owl that flies about helping the hero and driving every viewer over the age of eight into a frenzy of boiling hatred. The common wisdom is that Bubo was thrown in to capitalise on the robot fever birthed by Star Wars, which the film's producers have always denied; at any rate, it's grating enough to make you smile fondly on Jar Jar Binks. Indeed, the totality of Bubo-hatred led to the best joke (the only joke, actually) in the new film: the hero is poking about in an armory and finds a clockwork owl, whereupon an old soldier tells him to put it down, with a visible shudder of disgust.

Otherwise, the new film is pretty much no better, and usually significantly weaker, across-the-board than the first one, which was already one of the flimsier entries in Harryhausen's Greek myth films. A lot of that had to do with budgetary limitations, and a predominately limp cast (led by Harry Hamlin at his very worst), but a lot of it, too, is because the story just wasn't that solid: a wobbly retelling of the Perseus legend that lurches into the worst kind of episodic traveloguing, with every new incident introduced by a character furrowing their brow and saying, "That's impossible! -unless..." At any rate, there's not much about the plot that makes sense for the remake treatment - if someone declared that they were anxious to put together a new version of Jason and the Argonauts, I could at least understand why, but Clash of the Titans is mostly famous as a not-so-good finale for Harryhausen's career that a lot of people regard fondly out of their childhood memories.

But that doesn't matter, because here we have a new Clash of the Titans anyway, and it's still a wobbly retelling of the Perseus legend, although generally different in the broad strokes (though weirdly, less so in the details) from the original. Here, Perseus (Sam Worthington), the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), is raised by the kindly fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) and his wife Marmara (Elizabeth McGovern) in an age when mankind is in revolt against the gods. The gods don't like that one wee bit, which is why Zeus has given his resentful brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) a free hand in dealing with the insurgency of the city of Argos. In short, Hades is going to direct his gigantic sea monster, the Kraken, to destroy the city unless the beautiful princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is sacrificed; ostensibly, this is because her mother Cassiopeia (Polly Walker) made the hubristic mistake of claiming that the princess was lovelier than any goddess, but mostly it's because Hades is a dick. Perseus, that gallant soul, sets off on a quest to save the city and the girl, which involves first a trip to the Stygian witches to find out how one kills a city-sized monster, and then a trip into the lair of the Gorgon Medusa, whose deadly gaze can turn even the Kraken into stone.

Okay, a second way that the remake is better than the original: though it still has a grinding, episodic plot, the new writers (Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi) at least don't see fit to call our attention to that fact in screaming neon letters writ across the sky. But Clash of the Titans isn't now and never was about the plot, not really. It's a delivery system for big visual effects setpieces. Which is just as well, because the story doesn't really make much sense, starting with its confused theological argument. We're apparently meant to understand that the gods are arrogant douche-nozzles who don't deserve worship, but at the same time, King Cepheus of Argos (Vincent Regan), in his zeal for flipping the bird at the gods, is presented fairly unambiguously as a misguided ass. So which is it: throwing over the gods is good, because they are arrogant, or it is bad, because it is a sign of human arrogance? And I don't know what the hell is up with the idea that mythological Greece was marked by widespread popular movements against the gods. This, though, is more a matter of filmmakers' inveterate inability to get the details of Greek myths even close to accurate (see also the treatment of Hades as the next thing to Christianity's Satan, a frequent misrepresentation; Disney's Hercules is a prominent example). Getting pissed about that is only good for giving yourself outrage fatigue.

Naturally, the characters aren't really called upon to do much other than walk or run from one place to another and fight creatures; so it's really not fair even to mention that Neeson is sleepwalking through his role, or that Fiennes's raspy hiss as Hades is much more annoying than threatening. Worthington continues to prove, post-Avatar and Terminator Salvation, that he is a man of very little range and the good sense not to take roles that ask him to depart from it; while I'd never say "Dude, let's go see that new Sam Worthington picture!" at least he can play the taciturn hero surrounded by CGI like nobody's business, enough even to keep you from noticing that he adopts a different accent with seemingly every new line. Nobody else in the film is distinctive enough to bother caring about; there was one individual that I kept separate from the others by thinking of him as The Guy Who Looks Kind Of Like Mads Mikkelsen, and was then somewhat appalled to learn that it actually was Mads Mikkelsen.

Enough of that; we're here for the action. Which is, y'know, just sort of there- my fear had been that Clash of the Titans would be relentlessly, unforgivably bad, but it's only boring. I'm happy to lay the blame for that squarely at the feet of director Louis Leterrier (French for "Louis the yappy dog"), who last directed the failed reboot The Incredible Hulk. Here as there, the most amazing thing about the director's stylistic choices is that, given a godlike ability to depict any damn thing he wants to, he manages to find incredibly slack ways to present all of it. There are basically three sequences that Clash of the Titans is built around: a fight with a small army of giant scorpions, the fight against Medusa, and the Kraken storming up to Argos. The first and last of these almost work: the monster design is really impressive, and more importantly, the compositing of the effects and the live-action footage is virtually flawless. I might even be inclined to call the Kraken sequence genuinely great, except that the best part of it - the reveal of the Kraken's hideous features - was spoiled by the trailers. As for the scorpion battle, and the Medusa battle even moreso, they both underline what I think is the key difference between the 1981 and 2010 versions of the story, and the changes in effects-driven films more generally. In a film with Ray Harryhausen effects, we are given a nice good look at his artwork: still, longish (by modern standards) shots, that lovingly depict the monsters in no small detail. The new film uses a handheld shaky camera and lots of editing, and we only get to see the monsters in fits and starts, until the fight is virtually over; and moreover, the editing in places is so busy that it's borderline-impossible to understand where in space everything is happening. This is a chronic problem in the 2010 Clash, and it renders the Medusa scene - the highlight of the '81 film - virtually incoherent. Let's not blame Leterrier, though; he's just following along with a common aesthetic that assumes its audience is so inert and dull-minded that all we care about is noise and lots of movement, as though we were nothing but infants. Nearly every bad CGI-driven film of the last four or five years (and some of the good ones) suffers from this trait: the idea that as long as a whole lot of crap is happening all at once, nobody will care if it actually has any representational value. Unchecked, this mentality brings us Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Clash of the Titans is nowhere near that clattering and unpleasant. As I said, it's sin is being boring: despite all of its flash, there's nothing in it that transports us, nothing that is new or amazing. It never claws its way under the skin and into the imagination. It's all fight-fight-fight-fight, stop for an exposition dump, fight again, and that repetitiveness gets wearisome before too long. It's not enchanting, nor fun, nor exhilarating; just two blasted hours of the most mechanical kind of mass diversion that doesn't even deserve the name entertainment.

NB: Not a single on-screen being is, properly speaking, a Titan.

NB II: I didn't see it in 3-D, and you shouldn't either. Let us not reward the studios for deciding at the eleventh hour to charge us 25% extra for the privilege of watching 2-D footage that has been roughly converted in post-production.