'Titans' sequel tempts fate and fails

NOBODY KNEW BETTER than the Greeks the perils of tempting fate.

So it was with trepidation in "Wrath of the Titans" that I listened to Zeus himself say, "There is a catastrophe coming."

I think "catastrophe" is a little harsh, but only a little.

"Wrath" is the fun-drained sequel to "Clash of the Titans," a minor hit a few years ago built on an abiding sense of boys' adventure fun and 3-D updating of the Ray Harryhausen effects some of us old-timers enjoyed as kids.

"Clash" also had a lively band of sword-and-sandals characters, built around Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his mission to save a maiden from being sacrificed to a giant mass of special effects.

The 3-D sequel has no lively band of characters. Good luck if you can even remember their names from scene to scene.

"Wrath" comes to life for about five minutes when Bill Nighy appears as Hephaestus, engineer to the gods, who designed hell and several key pieces of Olympian weaponry. Reliable Nighy manages to give a performance as eccentric as his character's job description.

Then we're back to Perseus, who travels with Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Agenor (Toby Kebbell) through the whirring chambers of the underworld (it's designed like an animated Escher drawing of Swiss watchworks) in an effort to free imprisoned Zeus (Liam Neeson).

I'm sure digital artists labored like Hercules to create the meshing gears of this intricate subterranean world, but it feels as mechanical as it looks.

This cavernous hell is also dingy and dark, the world above dingy and sand-blown, and there is a grinding monochromatic feel to "Wrath," whose massive F/X expenditures (cyclops, Minotaur, two-headed dog/dragon) yield little in the way of wonder or excitement.

Neither does the story, which finds Perseus and a few allies attempting to find the weapon that will defeat the great fiery beast about to be set loose upon the world by Hades (Ralph Fiennes again) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez).

Danny Huston has about 40 seconds as Poseidon, and the nominal look of despair on his face as he fades to dust cannot disguise the joy the actor obviously feels at pocketing the easiest money he's ever made. n

Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Polly Johnsen, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, written by Dan Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson.

Wrath of the Titans

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. With Toby Kebbell, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Édgar Ramírez, Liam Neeson, Rosamund Pike, Sam Worthington. Distributed by Warner Bros..

Running time: 2 hours, 0 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action).