Much like its predecessor, Wrath of the Titans has, as it’s title, a misnomer: The only Titan here is Cronus, who, I’ll grant, is the Titan and is rather quite wrathful. In the Titans franchise’s continuing effort to streamline the whole of Greek mythology for the sake of added explosions, Cronus is much lesser a god than previous, here being a giant demonesque thing made of molten rock. As he spits words like “Zeus” and “Hades” at his children—who, as Zeus helpfully points out, he tried to kill many years ago—it’s hard to imagine the guy fashioning the universe, let alone concocting a successful, treacherous plan to spring him from the eternal prison of Tartarus. But, with the Olympian gods weakened from a lack of prayer and sacrifice, even the likely false promise that his accomplices will be allowed to keep their immortality is enough for the ruler of the underworld to take a flier on the guy who, tens of thousands of years ago, ate him fresh from his mother’s womb.
But, Wrath of the Titans would surely insist were it able, this is decidedly not a movie about the gods, whose time is ending. It’s about men, heroic men, men like Perseus (Sam Worthington), who will outlast the gods and forge new destinies without them. Perseus, last seen slaying the Kraken, is now a simple fisherman, a father hoping his son will never know war or pick up a sword. That dream ends as soon as Zeus (Liam Neeson) pays Perseus a visit, telling his son that the walls of Tartarus are falling, asking his assistance in rebuilding them. It’s a good thing Perseus doesn’t go, as Hades (Ralph Finnes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez) double cross Zeus as soon as they arrive in the underworld, imprisoning him and killing Poseidon (Danny Huston). They hook Zeus up to Cronus somehow, intending to jumpstart the Titan as one would a car battery.
Meanwhile, the walls between this world and the underworld begin to crack, allowing demons to spill out from Tartarus and cause all manner of havoc. One of them visits the town Perseus lives on, a three-headed, fire-breathing monster whose anatomy is impressive if impractical, and, after killing it and finding a dying Poseidon, he knows he must set things to right. Pegasus spirits him away to the frontline of a hopeless war, where the warrior queen Andromeda (Rosemund Pike) grants him an audience with Agenor (Toby Kendall), who is not only the son of Poseidon, but who knows how to reach the island where Hephaestus (Bill Nighy) lives, Hephaestus being the god who forged the weapon that allowed the Olympians to defeat Cronus those many years ago. The three set off to seek his aid, the fate of the universe upon their shoulders.
Clash of the Titans, the remake of Ray Harryhausen’s homespun cult epic, is a movie that grew on me over time and repeated viewings on HBO one bored summer. I doubt Wrath of the Titans will do the same, as director Jonathan Liebsman just smooshes together various elements of Greek myth with no thought given to plot or pace. His band of warriors move from demons to a tribe of cyclops to the minotaur to a rather poorly-planned battle against Cronus and his sparsely-populated army, and while that looks like a lot of cool, eye-poping, dumb fun, the movie plods along, cutting short battle sequences and focusing instead on trite dialog between Perseus, Andromeda, and Agenor, who are all of a type, even when what they have to say is somewhat witty.
I wouldn’t mind any of that were the plot not so lazily conceived. True, Greek epics tend to begin in media res, but the human characters of Wrath of the Titans, Perseus and Andromeda in particular, seem to have a sprawling relationship built upon events the movie never hints at. Yeah, it’s obvious where the movie is going the moment Perseus buries his wife, but it’d be nice if the movie treated its characters like characters, didn’t excuse a prior history with a curt “It’s so good to see you again,” actually showed a budding romance. That Liebsman has the audience fill in the blanks contributes to Wrath of the Titans feeling brief, incomplete, but still somehow padded at 99 minutes.
All of this is too bad, because Wrath of the Titans does have a good cast slumming as Greek gods, with Bill Nighy adding some much-needed levity to the old routine of long beards and deep, bellowing voices. In a different movie, the aging and de-aging and aging of the gods would have been an effective bit of camp. Impressive, too, are the special effects, though it’s still hard for me to be charmed by an army of artists strapped to their computers, having been raised on a steady diet of clay and men in rubber masks. The labyrinth, which is the movie’s most stirring set-piece, is appropriately exciting, if easily solved.
I get the feeling, however, that these movies, like a great many in its genre, are only as good as its villain. Clash of the Titans had a CGI monstrosity so well-marketed its heralding became a catchphrase. Wrath of the Titans could have used something like “Release the Kraken!” Cronus—who, again, created the whole universe—could have been an effective, compelling villain, a being of unimaginable power and intellect. Instead, he’s a lava-monster, prone to blowing up the same mountain. The film hopes that we, like so many helpless virgin sacrifices, will find ourselves chained to that mountain. Unfortunately, Wrath of the Titans gives one little to believe in.
Wrath of the Titans. Directed by Jonathan Liebsman. With Sam Worthington (Perseus), Liam Neeson (Zeus), Ralph Finnes (Hades), Bill Nighy (Hephaestus), Rosamund Pike (Andromeda) Toby Kendall (Agenor), Edgar Ramirez (Ares), and Danny Huston (Poseidon). Released March 30, 2012, by Warner Bros.