If you were a fan of the first installment then Wrath of the Titans is going to be a welcome improvement; if you didn't like the first film, this sequel is not going to reverse your negative opinion.
Wrath of the Titans picks up about a decade after Clash of the Titans, where we find Kraken-slaying demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) having traded his sword for the mundane life of a fisherman and father to his son, Helius. (Sadly his wife Io passed away - likely because the actress playing her didn't return for this sequel).
One night, Perseus' father Zeus (Liam Neeson) appears to tell him of an ominous prophecy: Mankind has moved away from the gods, causing the gods to lose their powers. This loss has consequently weakened the walls of Tartarus, the underworld prison where the Olympians banished the monstrous Titans - including Kronos, the father of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Zeus needs help to hold Tartarus together, but Perseus is reluctant to return to battle - that is, until Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Zeus' other son Ares (Édgar Ramírez) capture the god of lightning and begin to transfer his life force into the dormant Kronos.
With the fate of the world in the balance, Perseus recruits allies in the form of his old friend Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon's demigod son Agenor (Toby Kebbell). The trio sets out on a dangerous quest into the underworld to free Zeus, and stop the Titans from breaking free and wreaking havoc upon the world.
Clash of the Titans was a somewhat underwhelming affair (read our review), with its wooden acting, formulaic, video game-style progression, poor 3D conversion and action sequences that were more lackluster than thrilling. Wrath of the Titans is indeed an improvement upon its predecessor - but not by much.
Battle Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman steps into the director's chair in place of Clash helmer, Louis Leterrier. The two ultimately prove to be on the same skill level (average), but are slightly different in terms of their shortcomings.
Where Leterrier's signature was stiff and contrived action choreography shot at medium range using wires harnesses and such, Liebesman opts for the same kind of shooting style he used in Battle LA - namely a claustrophobic, over-the-shoulder shaky cam perspective - which will immediately turn off a certain contingent of moviegoers. The action sequences in the first film felt like overly-contrived dance routines, but in Wrath the action (especially in the first half) is a mix of blurry up-close movement and wider tracking shots that put the human actor in the foreground, running toward or away from some CGI creature in a green screen background. Stylistically speaking it's not very sophisticated, or believable.
Thankfully Liebesman's guerrilla shooting style relaxes as the film moves into some of the bigger set pieces in the second and third acts, and Wrath of the Titans ultimately manages to end on a much stronger note than it begins, with some epic blockbuster sequences that make smart use of the film's much-improved 3D format. Sure, seeing Perseus riding Pegasus towards a giant molten lava Titan is almost a carbon-copy of the first film, but Liebesman makes it look good. War simulation is definitely his strong suit.
The acting in the film is slightly better this time - though the script is still pretty formulaic, with dialogue that is wooden at best, cringe-worthy at worst. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are thankfully given more to work with, as one of the subplots has to do with Zeus and Hades confronting their sibling issues as the time of the gods nears its end. Édgar Ramírez also gets a more Shakespearean (and I use that term very loosely) story arc, playing the god of war as a wounded, rage-fueled man-child with deep-seated daddy issues. Rosamund Pike and Toby Kebbell are good sidekicks, and character actor Bill Nighy (Underworld, Pirates of the Caribbean) shows up for a scenery-chewing cameo alongside a very special guest, which fans of the 1981 original Clash will delight in seeing.
Sam Worthington, on the other hand, is still as wooden and uninteresting as ever. There must've been a lot of CGI required to create the actor's facial expressions in his Avatar alien body, because in every live-action role since then (see: The Debt, Man on a Ledge) Worthington has pretty much proven that his range extends between blank face and feral growl. Wrath of the Titans tries to give Perseus some deeper emotional motivations (family, duty), but the scenes requiring emoting just look flat and even comical set against Worthington's blank stare. Even Pegasus manages to display more personality - and he's a flying horse.
The Titans (and all the mystical beasts that come with them) are all well-designed and appropriately menacing - except for the Minotaur in the labyrinth sequence. Thanks to excess shaky-cam, we barely get to see what ol' horn head looks like. But Kronos, the Chimera, the double-torso demon soldiers - all well done.
If you were a fan of the first installment then Wrath of the Titans is going to be a welcome improvement; if you didn't like the first film, this sequel is not going to reverse your negative opinion. If you're wondering whether to shill out for the 3D ticket: the last half-hour is worth it, and overall the format is better-utilized, but for most of the runtime it isn't a necessity.
Wrath of the Titans is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our Wrath of the Titans episode of the SR Underground podcast.