Ten years after heroic Perseus (Sam Worthington) saved ancient Greece from the monstrous Kraken, his father Zeus (Liam Neeson), king of the Gods, returns with dire warning. The crumbling walls of Tartarus will soon unleash all manner of demons led by Cronos, vengeful king of the Titans. At first Perseus refuses to join the fight and abandon his young son (John Bell), now that his beloved wife has died. But then Ares (Edgar Ramirez), god of war, betrays Zeus and together with Hades (Ralph Fiennes) imprisons him in the underworld allowing Cronos to drain his strength. As monsters begin falling from the sky, humanity faces extinction, driving Perseus to rejoin Princess Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and her army and embark on a perilous quest to save Zeus and the world.
Stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen never got around to Force of the Trojans, the proposed follow-up to his original Clash of the Titans (1981) but the producers behind the 2010 remake got their sequel off the ground. Released to critical indifference but boffo box office - as Variety used to say - around the world, Wrath of the Titans outdoes its chaotic, albeit sporadically engaging predecessor weaving a heady spectacle with intriguing, though undeniably slight themes. After a stilted turn in the first film, Sam Worthington has grown into his role. He invests a surprising layer of gravitas along with welcome wry humour to his conflicted hero, still grappling with the sense of being a pawn of the gods. With Gemma Arterton’s character hastily despatched before the action starts, the plot clears a path for Perseus to romance Princess Andromeda. Replacing Alexa Davalos, Rosamund Pike brings grace and authority to the role and not only looks fetching in battle garb but marshals her troops with convincing force of presence.
Rosamund Pike also delivers the film’s keynote speech about faith being a defining aspect of the human condition, although belief in what exactly remains an open question. Wrath of the Titans details the fall of the ancient Greek gods, brought about, it is hinted, as much in reaction to their own capriciousness and cruelty as by the mystical menace of Cronos. Screenwriters Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson, working from a story co-written with Greg Berlanti, creator of short-lived superhero television series No Ordinary Family and director of the surprisingly affecting Katherine Heigl rom-com Life as We Know It (2010), concoct an interesting idea wherein praying to the gods simply alerts them to the heroes’ presence. There is the sense that humanity must learn to have faith in something else, intertwined with the theme of sons growing disillusioned with flawed father figures. Although these themes prove somewhat muddled they remain worth savouring even while the action increasingly resembles an RPG and still struggles to back its ideas with a solid emotional core.
Nevertheless, a starry ensemble work wonders with some occasionally anachronistic dialogue. Although Edgar Ramirez is a disappointingly bland villain, Ralph Fiennes essays a more intriguingly conflicted Hades this time and Bill Nighy injects some quirky humour with his Yorkshire-accented Hephaestus! Jonathan Liebesman, director of one-dimensional but genuinely fun sci-fi shoot ’em up Battle: Los Angeles (2011), invests the action with a weighty sense of mythic grandeur. He proves especially adept at staging vivid, you-are-there monster battles. Ben Davis’ exceptional cinematography prevents the artificial environment from lapsing into computer game territory, even when one of the many spectacular CGI creations are rampaging across the screen. One thing about these movies is they are a delight for monster fans.