There aren't many pleasures in "Wrath of the Titans," the 3-D sequel to the 2010 "Clash of the Titans" remake. But surely one is seeing Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson bounding around together as brothers, the gods Hades and Zeus.
In long beards, the two veteran actors are suited to one another, like a divine ZZ Top.
Camp is a part of the experience here, as both "Titans" films pull from an unlikely combination of traditions: ancient Greece and the 1980s. The clunky "Clash of the Titans" remade the 1981 original, bringing in boatloads of box office by updating the schmaltzy Laurence Olivier version with contemporary digital effects and a widely decried, slapped on conversion to 3-D.
"Wrath of the Titans," directed by Jonathan Liebesman taking over for Louis Leterrier, has modestly improved upon the 3-D this time around and better manages a narrative flow of continuous fantasy action.
But that's also all there is: A charmless stream of battle and fight sequences that contorts mythic characters into blockbuster conventions. It's comically late — literally the last few minutes — that the film even tries to slide emotion into the characters' relations, as if attempting to hypnotize us before leaving the theater: Oh, that was a love story? And that guy — gasp! — was supposed to be the funny one?
Rather than yet more Kraken releasing ("Release, um, another Kraken!"), "Wrath of the Titans," written by Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson, charts new ground for the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington). Going beyond the original "Clash," written by Beverley Cross, our distance from the original myths grows still more.
Perseus is living humbly as a fisherman despite his Kraken-squelching fame. He has sworn off the aging, selfish gods, such as his father Zeus and uncle Poseidon (Danny Huston). But Hades has made a deal in the underworld dungeon of Tartarus to betray Zeus and siphon his powers to Kronos, their dormant father with whom all of hell will follow.
Curiously, when Kronos, like the Kraken before him, is finally released, he turns out to not be human in appearance like the other gods, but a giant swirl of fiery black smoke. Let's call him Smog Man.
Father-son issues run everywhere. Conspiring with Hades is Zeus' son Ares (Edgar Ramirez, playing a more outward villain than his great Carlos the Jackal).
Perseus takes up the mantle of world-saver again for the sake of his young boy. He's joined by Queen Andromeda (the beautiful Rosamund Pike, adding grace and levity whenever she's on screen) and a fellow demigod, Agenor (Toby Kebbell, the presumptive comic relief), son of Poseidon.
Their journey into hell involves navigating a few marvels, like an enormous, Jenga-like underground labyrinth and Bill Nighy's gangly magnetism. Nighy plays the aging god Hephaestus, from whom the travelers seek a weapon. The brilliant, bemused Nighy somehow manages to slur a trademark, drawn out "faaan-tastic" — a glimpse of comedy in a film (like any film with flying horses) that desperately needs humor.
Perhaps Liebesman, whose previous movie was the grim "Battle: Los Angeles," is too drawn to the spectacle of battle to find the balance of camp and seriousness a patently ludicrous film such as "Wrath of Titans" seeks.
Because if you can't laugh at Smog Man, what can you?
"Wrath of the Titans," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action. Running time: 99 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.