For an action epic, Wrath of the Titans is surprisingly downbeat.
Like John Boorman’s Excalibur, it shows a magical civilisation winding down to be replaced by a more prosaic modern civilisation built on human effort.
As anyone who saw 2010’s Clash of the Titans will know, its gods – headed by Liam Neeson as Zeus – are as wilfully despotic as toddlers with super powers. They’re also short on stamina and need people to believe in them if they’re going to last for an eternity. Which means it’s only a matter of time before their diet of human attention becomes too meagre to sustain them and they fade into myths.
Saying that, the heroes who make their livelihood out of allying with and against them still have a few battles to fight before they retire as fishermen and shepherds.
When the treacherous god of the underworld, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) kidnaps top god Zeus in order to feed his power to their Satanic father, the titan Chronos, Zeus’ son Perseus (Sam Worthington) gets called out of early retirement to rescue him.
The original dysfunctional family, the Olympian gods are still capable of (belated) self-reflection and remorse. Their alliances shift, making them characters we can identify with rather than just despots.
The same is true of Perseus and his cousin Agenor (Toby Kebbell) who as demigods are heading the same way as their divine parents – not towards oblivion, exactly, but towards ordinariness in a world without the divine. They’re more than just boneheads.
However, don’t expect a lot of chemistry, physical or verbal, between Perseus and the female lead, warrior queen Andromeda (Die Another Day’s Rosamund Pike). Wrath of the Titans isn’t a film about sexual tension, it’s a film about the dynamics in a once-great family that’s now in free-fall.
The special effects? Well, Chronos the titan has a decent digital presence. Most of the time you can only see bits of him – but the bits add up to something vaguely ominous. At other times, however – such as when a god turns into a statue before crumbling away into dust – it all looks a bit Flash.
Meanwhile, the franchise’s attempts at 3D conversion may continue to cause controversy. When the camera swoops down into the vertiginous chasms of Tartarus it at least serves a purpose, but at other times – during the battle between Perseus and a cerberus-like demon – it just seems like too much; a sensory overload the brain can do without.
Nevertheless, the story and the performances are strong enough to provide more than an exercise in computer wizardry.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 30th March 2012 by Warner Bros.
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