“Clash of the Titans” was a mess, full of creaky 3D and plotting howlers, but it exhibited a certain charming kid-in-the-sandbox spirit, mixing and matching mythologies at will. Two years later, the franchise has matured ever so slightly with “Wrath of the Titans,” hewing incrementally more faithfully to its Greek origins and trimming the fat in essential places. It’s a mess too, but it’s far more defensible as a lazy Sunday lark for those who have just recently outgrown action figures. While posing no threat to “The Hunger Games,” “Wrath” should carve a healthy swath through its lesser B.O. competitors.
Having vanquished the first film’s meme-inspiring Kraken, muscled demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) has since retired to a small fishing village to raise his son (John Bell) among mortals, while his meddling father, Zeus (Liam Neeson), drops by for visits. Meanwhile, Greece has slumped into a secular stupor, with its temples falling into disrepair and the local gods going unworshipped, making them vulnerable to mortality.
This gives the embittered Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his moody young war-god nephew, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), an opportunity to usurp Zeus’ authority, which they do by killing off Poseidon (Danny Huston) and confining Zeus to the underworld, where they drain his power in order to restore the deposed Titans, allowing Hades to release the Kronos.
Exactly what this scheming twosome hopes to attain by kickstarting an orgy of deicide is never quite clear, but then, Greek gods have never been known for their circumspect policymaking. In any case, Perseus enlists the help of warrior-queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and fellow demigod Agenor (Toby Kebbell, doing a spot-on impersonation of Russell Brand, for some reason) to rescue Zeus, battling a grab-bag of mythical beasts along the way, as well as Ares, who appears whenever his name is spoken, a la Beetlejuice.
Directed by “Battle: Los Angeles” helmer John Liebesman (taking the reins from “Clash’s” Louis Leterrier), the film credits two screenwriters, which seems excessive, as so much of the dialogue simply consists of characters shouting one another’s names with varying degrees of distress or contempt. Even odder, there’s an additional story collaborator and a character creator, never mind that all the film’s relevant characters have been household names since the time of Hesiod. Yet to the scribes’ credit, the plotting here is ruthlessly streamlined and efficient, leaving little room for ponderous sermonizing or leaden comic relief as the pic zips from one ordeal to the next. The lone pause for theological reflection goes something like this: “But gods don’t die!” “They do now.”
As he did in “Clash,” Worthington manages to anchor the film while still being something of a non-presence, and Fiennes and Neeson continue to display the rare ability to throw caution to the wind in the service of schlock without sullying their serious-thesp credentials. Ramirez has comparable bonafides but seems far less comfortable chewing the scenery, as well as uncertain whether to play the role straight or embrace its inherent silliness. He’s also burdened with the film’s worst battle scene, as well as the seemingly conscious decision to base his character’s fighting style on classic lucha libre techniques.
In fact, all the action setpieces are shot in different styles, drawing inspiration from a variety of Saturday morning TV staples. The first, in which Perseus takes down a multiheaded beast, is thrillingly old-school, blessed with surprisingly long shots and well-weighted editing. Things get sketchier and more manic for a fight with the Minotaur; a race through a labyrinth resembles an epic round of Q*bert; a mystical weapon-making scene is clearly informed by “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”; and the climactic battle might well have been assembled from “Lord of the Rings” outtakes, with Pike wearing Miranda Otto’s combat gear.
This wild stylistic heterogeneity extends to the tech credits as well. One moment, the pic will surprise with a Caravaggio-worthy chiaroscuro composition or an impressively staged shot, only to immediately thereafter toss up a volley of cut-and-paste 3D gimmickry. The settings, which include such far-flung locales as Wales, the Canary Islands and Patagonia, look magnificent, if notably non-Hellenic, which fits the film’s potpourri of inappropriate accents, ranging from English to Australian, Venezuelan and French.