”Just accept it.” That’s the advice given to Perseus when he discovers a sword from the gods in the forest. There’s no good explanation for it and no explanation is attempted. The same advice holds true for Clash of the Titans. It’s an action movie made for thrills. That’s it. Just accept it. It’s conceivable you might enjoy it.
The original Clash of the Titans, released in 1981 starring Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith, among others, is a hoot to watch. Between the outmoded special effects and a mechanical owl that plays a pivotal role, it’s a camp classic that doesn’t really stand the test of time. With the remake, director Louis Leterrier, responsible for Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk, is going for something big. Special-effects monsters, wars between man and the gods, and in 3D. It’s a Herculean task — one the director is not strong enough to pull off.
Knowledge of mythology isn’t necessary for seeing Clash of the Titans. In fact, knowledge might actually hinder one’s experience, since screenwriters Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi take great liberties with the stories. This time around, Perseus (Sam Worthington), the bastard son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), must decide whether to save mankind or take his place on Olympus with his father. When his Uncle Hades (Ralph Fiennes) makes a power grab, only the demigod Perseus can save the beautiful Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) from the dreaded Kraken.
Much of the film follows Perseus as he sets out with his band of warrior friends, and the lovely Io (Gemma Arterton), to find a way to kill the sea monster. Meanwhile, back at home, a sect gathers in an attempt to appease the gods. It’s your classic quest story filled with worship and rebellion, hubris and insolence, giant scorpions and serpent-permed gorgons.
The movie attempts to capture themes on a Goliath scale, like man vs. gods and familial obligation, but achieves all on a teeny-tiny David level. Action supercedes plot and dialogue, and frankly that’s wise, because some of the writing makes Avatar sound like Shakespeare. One can almost forgive Worthington’s stilted delivery because each word must taste like vinegar in his mouth.
As Perseus, Worthington adopts Christian Bale’s Batman voice, reciting each line in a deep, graveled snarl. His big, stirring pep talk is laughably horrendous, but his fight scenes aren’t altogether bad (though it’s tough to tell what’s happening thanks to Leterrier’s rapid cuts). Ultimately, Worthington was more credible when blue than as a demigod. It’s Neeson here who really shines. Literally. Clad in a shimmering suit of armor, Zeus has the best line of the film – ”Release the Kraken!” – but even as he bellows it, he looks like a Christmas ornament twinkling on a tree.
Fiennes gives the best performance of the film, but that’s damning with faint praise. The god Hades actually has some depth, and Fiennes sinks to the required level, but his Voldemort is so much more sinister. The beautiful women who float in and out of the film, Arterton and Davalos included, are sufficient but completely forgettable.
Leterrier steals bits and pieces from many other films, with some images so reminiscent of their predecessors that they momentarily rip you out of Argos and plop you next to Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, or with Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets, or chilling with Superman’s father on Krypton, or even hanging out with Ann Darrow atop the Empire State Building. And while the Kraken doesn’t live up to expectations, Medusa forces one to pause in appreciation.
But Leterrier’s use of the visual enhancements allowed by 3D are an utter waste of time. For most of the film, it’s so subtle that you barely notice any difference. Just when you start to believe that he’s found a balance that allows 3D to be well-integrated and unobtrusive, a spear flies in your face and topples the whole effect.
Just mentioning Zeus’s armor doesn’t do the costumes justice. The film looks like it was designed by a Project Runway contestant — one sent packing on the first episode. In reality, designer Lindy Hemming has a long résumé including The Dark Knight, the aforementioned Harry Potter film, and a number of the recent Bond a dventures, but she doesn’t bring much to Clash. Worthington runs around in what amounts to a dress (it’s tough to make him look unsexy but Hemming accomplishes it), and as Io, Arterton seems to be wearing a cross between a mop and a schnauzer.
In a moment of humor, the mechanized owl makes a brief cameo that will delight those familiar with the 1981 original. It’s the sole moment of self-awareness in a film that otherwise sacrific es brains for brawn in an attempt to appease the box-office gods.