Wrath of the Titans
"Let's have some fun," says one god to another, suggesting that they "put on a show." The moment comes late in Wrath of the Titans. Very, very late. I don't remember the response, if any, but "Why start now?" would have been appropriate.
Writing about the 2010 Clash of the Titans remake, I complained that while the intrigues of the Greek gods ought to play like "Dallas" on Mount Olympus, in that film the gods seemed as grand and passionate as "The Simpsons." In a way it's worse in this sequel: Mount Olympus is never even seen, and the gods, irrelevant and losing their powers now that men have learned not to worship or pray to them, have become earthbound, or even Tartarus-bound.
Betrayed by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Édgar Ramírez), Zeus (Liam Neeson) spends nearly the whole film chained in a stygian pit with his remaining powers being drained away, which seems to amount to his arms very, very slowly turning into lava, or something. Perseus (Sam Worthington), the half-human son of Zeus, still wants nothing to do with his father; we're told Perseus refused to pray to Zeus even when Perseus's wife Io died between films—an odd turn of events, considering she was immortal. Actually, she was killed in the previous film, but Zeus brought her back to life in the end. What's the good of marrying an immortal woman if she keeps dying on you?
The good, I guess, is that Perseus still has his ten-year-old son Helius (John Bell), with whom he wants to be left in peace. Unfortunately, with the gods fading, their power is no longer sufficient to keep the demonic hordes of Tartarus imprisoned, imperiling all mankind—which Perseus ordinarily wouldn't care about, except that demon attacks are inconvenient to his plans to raise his son in peace. It seems the demonic has more staying power than the divine, or at least the loss of faith in the divine doesn't make one less vulnerable to the demonic, but more.
There are battles with gods and monsters, a descent into an underworld labyrinth, efforts to collect a triad of primordial weapons, and a big bad villain named Kronos (the first actual Titan to make an appearance in any of these films, including the original) who looks like the Balrog crossed with the giant liquid warrior from Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A lot of stuff happens, but did the filmmakers at any point ask themselves: Is any of this fun? Are these characters appealing or engaging? Are any of these special effects in the service of memorable, inspired creatures or settings? Have we created anything beautiful, anything that suggests a world worth fighting for?
People complained that John Carter had a boring hero and a drab palette. I was one of them. Next to Perseus and his world, John Carter is as colorful as Tony Stark and Barsoom is as colorful as Pandora. In Avatar it didn't matter that Sam Worthington's character wasn't interesting, because his world was so arresting. (As C. S. Lewis points out in "On Stories," stories about extraordinary worlds ought to have ordinary protagonists.) Here, in a world that's practically all rock and sand, where even the costumes and the monsters are drab and colorless, Worthington is an epicenter of dullness.