Every director in Hollywood must have envied Jonathan Liebesman the day he got directing gig on Wrath of the Titans. Here, at last, was a job that seemingly nobody could screw up, because no matter what happened, no one could make a worse fantasy epic than that atrocious Clash of the Titans remake. Most sequels have to worry about living up to the standard of quality set by the original. Wrath of the Titans had nowhere to go but up. And up this franchise goes, from “destined to go down as one of the worst films of the decade,” straight into a comfortable middle-of-the-road mediocrity. It’s funny how that’s actually a relief in this context.
The story picks up maybe ten years after the events of Clash of the Titans, just long enough for everyone in the franchise to change completely, like the screenwriters either forgot to watch the original or already considered it non-canonical. Perseus, still played by Sam Worthington, is now a single dad, after his wife Io died off-screen between films. If you’ll recall, Io was an immortal who longed to die in Clash of the Titans, but was then brought back to life by Zeus at the end of the film like it was some kind of reward or something. So they killed her off-screen this time. Lesson learned: Never bring your love interests together at the end of the first movie if you’re planning a franchise.
Perseus, the half-son of Zeus, is now ashamed of his humanity, in a complete 180-degree shift from Clash of the Titans, when the opposite was true. In an apparent mad dash to get the movie started, Zeus (Liam Neeson) immediately tries to recruit Perseus to save the world again. It turns out that humanity has turned their back on the Gods, diminishing their ability to keep the Titan named Kronos (CGI) trapped in Tartarus. For some reason the Gods needs human prayers to stay alive, but Kronos doesn’t. Maybe somebody should have looked into his diet. Now the Gods need every bit of magical power to keep Kronos imprisoned, and are recruiting every demigod available to chip in. Perseus refuses to leave his son’s side, as if saving the world has no correlation towards the kid’s well being. Don’t worry: somehow, this still makes more sense than Clash of the Titans.
Before long, Zeus is betrayed and imprisoned by traitorous Gods who have struck a bargain with Kronos, and Perseus has to team up with Queen Andromeda (now played by Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon’s son Agenor (Toby Kebbell), who was inexplicably ignored when Zeus was specifically said he was calling together all the demigods at the beginning of the film, to break into Tartarus, free Zeus, and save the world.
Wrath of the Titans moves with an unexpected determination, like everyone was in a rush to get home early, resulting in a short running time – 99 minutes – and no real character development to speak of. The film’s confusing themes of parenthood and forgiveness are earnest but never seem to coagulate, frequently contradicting themselves. But the villainous Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has an unexpected character arc, arguably the only one in the film, and its surprisingly satisfying, if only because his relationship with his brother Zeus is so firmly established in the original mythology that his subplot seems a little iconic.
The rest of the film meanders from action sequence to action sequence, cannily directed (I particularly liked the Rube Goldberg forest of death traps) but amounting to little. Isolated moments of actual humanity, like Perseus trying to make an impressive entrance on his flying horse Pegasus, lighten up the otherwise dour proceedings, but the overall effect of Wrath of the Titans is “in one ear, out the other.” It’s an improvement on Clash of the Titans, obviously, and Liebesman manages to create an admirably epic experience despite the film’s short duration, but in the end, “forgettable” is only slightly better than “god awful.”