It wouldn't take much to better the stale but profitable misfire that was 2010's Clash of the Titans remake. Yet the year's latest unwanted sequel, following in the fumes of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, is a vast improvement on its predecessor and contains enough epic visual scope and spectacle to merit your attention on the big screen. Preferably in IMAX and 3D.
Picking up a decade after the Kraken was sent packing to CGI Hell, Wrath of the Titans involves demi-God Perseus (Sam Worthington and mullet) plotting to rescue his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) and prevent hell from breaking loose. Their lives are in grave danger after Zeus's brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and other son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) turn against their relatives. They make the Mitchell family in EastEnders look functional.
So with the help of feisty Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and gormless demigod Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Perseus must venture into the Underworld, save daddy and prevent a massive fire-based bit of CGI entitled Kronos from breaking free. The group venture across breathtaking landscapes and encounter many perils such as a Cyclops and a Minotaur. To the movie's credit, assured pacing ensures that the travellers never dwell in a location for too long and each successive set piece raises the stakes and the excitement levels.
These levels are at bare minimum for the first portion of the movie though, as director Jonathan Liebesman deploys the overly-shaky camerawork he used in the dire Battle: Los Angeles in a bid to instil a gritty feel to proceedings. As stated in the Digital Spy review of that dud - "the battle sequences between the two sides are a motion-sickness inducing mess that makes it hard to work out which of the ciphers is being wounded".
Fortunately, Liebesman seemingly experiences a learning curve as Wrath progresses and allows more clarity to seep into his depiction of the furious clashes between man and beast. A chase sequence set in woodland involving a Cyclops is particularly effective. The imagery is often most potent when treated with calmer camerawork, such as when Perseus glides around on his wingéd horse.
The story often unfolds clumsily, but there was clearly a concerted effort from the screenwriters to put an emotional core at the movie's heart and give the protagonists clearly defined motivations. This certainly helps, although Perseus is still suffering from 'a touch of the blands' despite Sam Worthington openly criticising the dull nature of his character in the first movie.
He's equipped with more one-liners here, but these quips - such as "you gotta be kidding me!" when a certain monster suddenly appears on the horizon - are far too generic and rest uneasily with the character's stoic nature. Yet Worthington's demeanour of determination throughout the movie, despite enduring a huge amount in the way of physical beatings, sways you towards Perseus. Constantly thrown around like a ragdoll, you can't help but root for the underdog and his dodgy mullet before long.
The natural gravitas of the bewigged duo of Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson (yet again channelling Barry Gibb) helps them to overcome some horrendously stilted dialogue, swamped in faux-portentous codswallop such as "It has begun!" They appear to be having fun, as does a rather jolly Bill Nighy in a brisk supporting role that gives a huge boost of vitality to proceedings that frequently flag.
It's refreshing to see the female lead not being reduced to mere eye candy or a sex object for the male protagonist to lust after and fight for. As Andromeda, Rosamund Pike delivers a commanding turn that subverts generic conventions and makes you believe that she is a warrior who possesses great dignity and commands respect. Or at least until the final moments of the film when this is all jettisoned in favour of a formulaic ending. Big mistake.
However, the real stars of the movie are those responsible for the visual effects. They look terrific on the supersized IMAX screen and the impressive use of 3D creates an immersive environment that allows for enough escapist fun. As a blockbuster it lacks much in the way of brains, but has enough brawn to keep it afloat.