You’ll recall that when the “Clash of the Titans’’ remake hit two years ago, much of the focus was on its lousy 3-D conversion. Somewhat lost amid all the warranted scoffing was this: The movie was actually pretty sturdy swords-and-sandals entertainment, with Sam Worthington ably playing demigod protagonist Perseus, a gutsy roughneck proving his many haters wrong. Perseus’s place in mythology might have been a tip-off that things would work out for him in the end, but “Clash’’ still lent some solid tension, drive, and manly heroism to his questing.
Hence the sequel, “Wrath of the Titans,’’ arrives with a certain creative legitimacy to it, never mind box-office considerations. Trouble is, our hero must have used that chip on his shoulder for whittling or such, because the character just doesn’t feel as motivated here. He’s Complacent Rocky, when “Wrath’’ needs Eye-of-the-Tiger Rocky. At least the 3-D passes muster.
The new installment, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles’’), opens with Perseus quietly living as a pacifist, single-dad fisherman following the death of his wife/guardian angel, Io. (We know he’s more content from the Grecian curls he’s sporting in place of what was a severe military cut.) Enter Perseus’s father, Zeus (Liam Neeson, wisely ditching the disco wardrobe), to warn him that trouble is brewing. The gods have been weakened by humans’ fading worship, and are struggling to keep molten, monolithic granddaddy Titan Kronos imprisoned. It’s inevitable: Just when Perseus thought he was out, he’s pulled back in by scheming Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Zeus’s black-sheep son, Ares (Édgar Ramirez, “Che’’).
The writers give Neeson a quick line or two referencing Perseus’s feelings of unworthiness to jumpstart that old fight-the-power determination, but the motivation feels manufactured. The script does better playing with Perseus’s new status as an icon in his own time. “ ‘Release the Kraken’ and all of that?’’ prattles Bill Nighy’s mad scientist Hephaestus. Toby Kebbell (“War Horse’’) also supplies some humor as lowlife demigod Agenor, Perseus’s main ally. (Their other cohort, Rosamund Pike’s Queen Andromeda, is given disappointingly little to do.)
The moments that elevate “Wrath’’ above the routine are right in line with Liebesman’s “Battle: Los Angeles’’ high points: frenetically shot u-r-there combat sequences that feel like the real thing. We might not be able to tell clearly just what critters are mashed up in that attacking chimera, and that Cyclops might not look as photo-real once he’s knocked out, but the havoc they wreak is plenty convincing.Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.