March 29, 2012 at 9:45 AM ET
REVIEW: If the Greeks think things are tough in their country right now, "Wrath of the Titans" can provide ample solace that things were once a whole lot worse. Serving up more action and better visual effects and 3D than the 2010 "Clash of the Titans," along with a barely-there screenplay that merely functions to notify Perseus which enemy or monster he should hack or skewer next, this is a relentlessly mechanical piece of work that will not or cannot take the imaginative leaps to yield even fleeting moments of awe, wonder or charm. But the elements, as they say, are present to produce a sequel that should approach the Olympian box office heights of its predecessor, which erupted for more than $493 million worldwide, a notable $330 million of which was generated outside the United States.
Greek mythology would amount to little were it not for abundant father-son conflict and this tale features two mighty generations of it. Buried deep and out of sight in particularly unfashionable part of the underworld called Tartarus is Kronos, imprisoned there by his sons Zeus, Hades and Poseidon (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Danny Huston, all back and bearded for another nice payday).
Nothing if not unreliable, however, Hades has a change of heart and, allied with Zeus' vicious son Ares (Edgar Ramirez, replacing Tamer Hassan in the role), captures Zeus and proceeds to begin transferring the latter's considerable powers to their restless dad. Enter Zeus' half-human son Perseus (Sam Worthington), who for a decade has been recovering from his battle with the Kraken by modestly working as a fisherman and being an exemplary single dad to son Helius (John Bell).
As so many versions of Greek myths and the gods' actions existed even in ancient times, one can't take issue with the way they're employed by screenwriters Dan Mazeau, in his debut, and David Leslie Johnson ("Red Riding Hood") and co-story writer Greg Berlanti ("Green Lantern"), other than to note that the gods here, claiming undue neglect by humans, behave like petulant mercenaries as anxious to fight as some kid might be to play a video game.
After a mettle-testing battle with the marauding Chimera, a notably aggressive flying, fiery-mouthed beast with two large heads and snapping snake's head at the end of its tail, Perseus sets out to rescue Zeus along with Andromeda (Rosamund Pyke, so delectably decked out in a snug-fitting leather outfit as to look like Katniss Everdeen's older sister), and Poseidon's wayward son Agenor (Toby Kebbell, resembling a Russell Brand clone). They in turn are joined by one-time god of craftsmanship Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), who, as its designer, is the only one capable of negotiating the complex labyrinth leading to the underworld.
The amusingly cranky Hephaestus represents a welcome relief from the other, uniformly self-serious sojourners, but he's unaccountably knocked off almost as soon as he shows up, a major blunder by the filmmakers. If you've got Bill Nighy, for a god's sake use him; the narrative could easily have accommodated keeping him on the journey for far longer until, say, Hephaestus might have misremembered some detail of his design, leading to a comically resigned demise.
Instead, things just keep getting heavier. While the relentless Ares tortures his chained father, whose arms are slowly consumed by fire, Perseus must fight off Cyclops triplets, an only glancingly-viewed Minotaur and, perhaps weirdest of all, some wild fighting machines called Makhai, which have four weapons-wielding arms and twin twisting bodies atop two legs (and, yes, Perseus does get to ride Pegasus).
When he finally emerges with the intention of laying the world to waste, Kronos could legitimately be considered the original mountain man; formed out of burning rock, he towers over all and can set fire to anything in sight with the wave of an arm. Shrewdly designed, he cuts, arguably, a pretty awesome figure, and his destruction presents Perseus with a challenge more or less on a par with what Bruce Willis faced in "Armageddon." The aftermath strongly suggests that the twilight of the gods has arrived, with humans now left to their own devices to make their way in the world without divine intervention.
As most of the dialogue is shouted or bellowed, it's rather beside the point to speak of the performances, other than to say that Sam Worthington looked marginally more at home on Pandora than he does in the Greece of myth. Effects work is not only abundant but sharp and some imagination enhances the production design. At the screening caught, image brightness was diminished only slightly through the 3-D glasses.