Wrath of the Titans is a better film than 2010's Clash of the Titans: I was going to say "a better film in all respects", but that is not true. In the intervening years, and without any gonzo CGI popcorn epics to keep him sharp, Sam Worthington has become an even greater liability as an actor, drifting minutely but surely from "one-note, but at least it's the note that the movie requires" to "one-note, which is that he ate craft services fish tacos that had gone off". You would think, given that Worthington plays the protagonist of Wrath, that this would be a serious impediment, but since the movie doesn't really give two shits about the protagonist or the plot, or anything other than the smooth, workmanlike delivery of the best fantasy monster effects that a mid-range budget can supply, Worthington could be replaced by a cardboard standee of Carol Channing, and it's not very likely that anybody would notice much of a difference, other than a general improvement in the quality of the line readings throughout the picture.

Wrath of the Titans, following upon the earlier film which was itself a remake of the 1981 movie that was Ray Harryhausen's last work as a visual effects designer, makes one important change to the franchise template as thus far established: unlike the preceding two movies, it actually contains Titans, who do in fact express something very like wrath. More specifically, the Titans have lately been battering extra-hard against the walls of their prison in Mt. Tartarus - by the way, if you haven't boned up on your Greek mythology or the first movie lately, Wrath is not at all interested in explaining a fucking thing about what's going on, which is awfully damn presumptuous of it - and this has lead the leader of the Olympian gods, Zeus (Liam Neeson, having infinitely more fun with the role than he did two years ago), to attempt a summit with all the gods and demigods of Greece, which is stymied in the very opening when he approaches his beloved half-human son Perseus (Worthington), who has retired to the shore after heroing all over the last movie to live out the rest of his days as a fisherman, raising his son Helius (John Bell), and mourning his dead wife. Undeterred, Zeus takes his brother Poseidon (Danny Huston, who with a solid dozen lines and eight or ten minutes of screentime, roughly quintuples the size of his part from last time) and fully-divine son Ares (Γ‰dgar RamΓ­rez, violently awful, and it's impossible to reconcile what he's doing here with his devastatingly commanding work in Carlos) down to the underworld, where his other brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), broods and mulls over past wrongs. As it happens, Hades and Ares have hatched a dreadful plot with Chronos, the lord of the Titans, to unseal the elder gods and wipe out humanity, which is the last chance the dying Olympians have of securing their immortality in the face of a world that no longer needs to believe in them.

This all results in an increase in monster activity throughout the country, and when Perseus has to defend his town from a two-headed dog-beast (three heads, counting the snapping mouth on its tail) that breathes fire, he decides to join Team Zeus after all; but Poseidon, heavily wounded by Hades, informs him that such and such has occurred, so Perseus flies of on his winged horse to find Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike, replacing Alexa Davalos in the role), whose life he saved from the infamously released Kraken, for she has as prisoner Poseidon's half-human son Agenor (Toby Kebbell), who alone knows where the find the long-lost forge god Hephaestus (Bill Nighy, absolutely delightful in a loopy extended cameo), who is the key to stopping Hades and Ares and preventing the full bloom of the wrath - wait for it - of the Titans.


Forgive the logorrhoea, but it was the best way to put across two important truths: first, Wrath of the Titans starts throwing plot at the wall from the moment it starts, essentially, and doesn't let up until the final scene (and only barely then); second, we are a long way from Greek mythology at this point. Of course, both iterations of Clash of the Titans were hardly the sort of thing that would win a classicist's seal of approval, but if you squinted, and were really drunk or high, you could see the traditional Perseus legend hiding in there. At this point, all that's left is a crazy patchwork made up what we might generously call elements of Greek mythology, and this is, I think, for the better. The wholly arbitrary nature of the jerry-rigged plot - one gets the sense that writers David Leslie Johnson, Dan Mazeau, & Greg Berlanti were amusing themselves by seeing just how much exposition they could keep adding until the whole thing toppled like a narrative Jenga game - makes it easier to stop paying attention to piddling matters like what happens and why, and instead focus on the meat and potatoes of the film: CGI monsters from out the bowels of Tartarus. That's all we're hear for, and that's all we were ever here for: either the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion in 1981, or the chintzy animation and legendarily godawul 3-D conversion in 2010, or here, where altogether decent 3-D and significantly better CGI parade before our eyes in hectic splendor.

There's little denying that the film is both handsomer and more creative than the 2010 Clash; it suffers a bit from coming so soon after Immortals, which had only handsome and creative imagery to offer - but Christ, such imagery it was! - and which makes Wrath seem a bit weedy in comparison. And, to be entirely fair, director Jonathan Liebesman doesn't help anything by stubbornly shooting everything in a jiggly, hand-held aesthetic - just like his last film, the ungainly, sputtering Battle: Los Angeles - and while there are some really snazzy moving shots throughout the movie whose chief purpose seems to be smugly preening and showing off how good the match movers were at their jobs (and good for them; nothing wrong with showing off if you've got the goods), a whole lot of the movie consists of the same feeling over and over again: seeing a quick flash of some monster that appears to be awfully cool, craning about to see it better, realising that, 3-D notwithstanding, this is a movie and you can't crane around, and then realise in dismay that Liebesman has absolutely no interest in offering up glamor shots of the monster design except in a few cases. Bully for his commitment to the logic of a guiding aesthetic, but it does tend to rob Wrath of the Titans of one of the few merits it possesses; but still, he provides more energy than Louis Leterrier thought of giving to the first one, so we'll take what we can get.

It's not a very good movie, but it's close enough to lord it all over Clash: the plot, though still episodic, flows much more smoothly, the acting is generally improved, sometimes because the returning actors are looser, sometimes because the new cast is largely an improvement on the old, and the only comic moment - which, as last time, consists solely in making fun of how much we all hate Bubo the mechanical owl from the Harryhausen picture - is weirder, longer, and funnier. I cannot call up any more enthusiasm than this, but since Wrath was one of the most brazenly unnecessary sequels in the last good while, I think any enthusiasm at all counts for an awful lot.

5/10