To prefer “Wrath of the Titans” to its predecessor, the 2010 remake “Clash of the Titans,” is like saying that a punch in the stomach is better than a knee to the groin.
“Clash,” after all, featured such terrible 3D post-production (remember Ralph Fiennes’ face free-floating an inch in front of his wig?) that it became the standard by which all subsequent awful 3D would be measured.
So yes, this is a sequel that improves upon the previous movie. But “Wrath of the Titans” is still cacophonous, visually jumbled and dank, and painfully underwritten. Plus they gave Sam Worthington Danny McBride’s “Eastbound and Down” perm.
Worthington returns as half-human, half-god Perseus, who’s now a single dad trying to raise his son in a fishing village far away from sword-fighting and deities. But godliness ain’t what it used to be -- Perseus’ papa Zeus (Liam Neeson) shows up to tell his progeny that mortals aren’t praying so much anymore, which is making the gods weaker, and that weakness is making it more difficult for the deities of Olympus to keep the underworld as locked down as it once was.
Perseus turns down the chance to go on the road with dad, but soon he has no choice after Hades (Fiennes) and Ares (Édgar Ramírez) kill Poseidon (Danny Huston) and imprison Zeus so they can unleash the monstrous Chronos upon the earth. Mankind’s last chance is for Perseus to team up with Agenor (Toby Kebbell), half-human son of Poseidon, and Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) to combine Zeus’ thunderbolt, Poseidon’s trident and Hades’ pitchfork into a megaweapon that will take down Chronos.
If this all sounds like a videogame -- go to the place and fight the guy and get the weapon and kill the monster -- rest assured that “Wrath of the Titans” is far less compelling than almost anything you can pop into your X-Box these days.
Perseus is supposed to be torn between his duties as a demigod and his desire to live as a human, but Worthington isn’t thespian enough to convey the struggle of choosing Coke over Pepsi.
Not that this is a movie designed for good actors, mind you; most of the prestige names here are either underutilized (Fiennes, Huston, Sinéad Cusack as one of Perseus’ fellow villagers) or actively embarrassing. This is one of the few times Neeson has been downright silly in a movie, but at least he’s got the robes and wigs ready if they ever need him to play Shazam in a Captain Marvel epic.
Pike, for her part, gets to be a ferocious warrior (with dialogue no stupider than that given to her male counterparts), and Bill Nighy puts the whole movie in his pocket in his few scenes as Hephaestus -- he treats the absurd material with the disrespect it deserves.
“Wrath” has a few moments that pop, particularly a forest battle scene involving a giant Cyclops and his vine-and-tree-trunk–based system of traps, and overall, the film looks brighter than many recent 3D movies. Still, there’s about one sandstorm too many, and director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle Los Angeles”) shoots the hand-to-hand combat scenes with such herky-jerkiness that it’s often impossible to tell who’s doing what to whom.
In the final analysis, “Wrath of the Titans” is at least somewhat better than anyone might have expected. Which isn’t the same as actually being any good at all.