Wrath of the Titans (***) is one of those rare sequels that handily surpasses its predecessor. Admittedly, the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans was not the hardest act to follow up — indeed, the mere notion of a follow-up wasn’t entirely encouraging — but the new film is a happy surprise.
Sam Worthington encores as Perseus, the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson, the actor who never says no), who saved the world by defeating the monstrous Kraken. Now widowed and raising his son Helius (John Bell) alone, Perseus wants nothing more than to live out his days as a simple fisherman. Fate — and the gods, of course — have other plans.
When Zeus attempts to forge an alliance with his brother, the hellbound Hades (Ralph Fiennes again), to save their kind from extinction, it truly is a deal with the devil — and a bad one. Zeus is betrayed by his other son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) and held captive in the underworld. Kronos, the granddaddy of all the gods and the father of both Zeus and Hades, is making his move to raise hell on Earth.
“This is a business for gods,” Perseus told Zeus before the latter’s capture, but saving the world proves to be Perseus’ business. Again.
The director (Jonathan Liebesman) and screenwriters (Dan Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson and Greg Berlanti), none of whom had anything to do with the earlier film, display much more confidence in the material. Wrath of the Titans is much looser than its predecessor and much more fun. The film is also better paced, getting right down to the business at hand. There are plenty of sword-slashing, head-bashing fight sequences, be they god against god, man against god, man against monster (plenty of those, too), or even that old standby: man against man.
Saving the world is a risky business, but Perseus isn’t in it alone. The ever-fetching Rosamund Pike steps in for Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, the queen of Greece, who is not only a fierce warrior but also a perfect match for Perseus. When Perseus is told by one potential recruit to go to Hell, he snaps back “That’s exactly where I’m going.”
There are a lot of lines like that in the script, delivered with the sort of mock gravity that can’t help but raise a smile or two. (Indeed, in a couple of scenes, Pike appears to be stifling her own.)
After a near-encounter with oblivion, Hades tells Zeus “You look 10,000 years younger.” “I feel it,” is the reply. There aren’t many actors who can pull off that dialogue with a straight face, but Wrath of the Titans counts a number of them in its cast, including Bill Nighy, Toby Kebbell, Sinead Cusack and Danny Huston (reprising his role as the god Poseidon). Even the actors look like they’re having fun.
Like the earlier film, the 3-D effects were grafted on in post-production, yet the special effects overall appear to be better executed this time around, whether it be any one of the film’s fantastical creatures (including Pegasus the winged horse, fire demons and a trio of giant cyclops’) or the treacherous labyrinth that’s the portal to the underworld, a maze laden with lethal, Rube Goldberg-type traps. In the best comic-book tradition, there’s scarcely time to ponder how silly the plot may be because the film is constantly in motion. Move fast, ask questions later. (Better, perhaps, not to ask them at all.)
As well as in interesting father/son motif that crops up repeatedly in the storyline, there are a few lessons to be learned in Wrath of the Titans: One is to be careful which gods you pray to, lest they decide to prey on you. (Even gods tend to be fickle.)
The other is that, when all is said and done, even Hades has a heart after all. Hardly a profound message, but a nice one nonetheless. Give the devil his due — especially when he’s such an entertaining character.
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