“They declared war. War on the Gods.”
Going from Luc Besson‘s go-to director to becoming a Hollywood action regular, you can’t blame Louis Leterrier for wanting to tackle the big budget remake of Clash of the Titans. With a predecessor remembered more for its Ray Harryhausen creatures than any lasting artistic quality—I still can’t believe its shoddy effects came after Empire Strikes Back—its subject matter actually seemed ripe for a revisioning. So many genre ‘classics’ have garnered a want for new boatloads of cash, why not a film badly in need of youthful rejuvenation? If only the story wasn’t ingrained with Greek mythology morality and a penchant for easy answers, contrived plotlines, and a redundantly asinine mirroring of past and present. No amount of computer technology can hide the shortcomings of a grand epic thrown together from pieces of legend for the simple fact each thread contains a beast that may look cool when filtered through a darkly creative mind.
If anything warranted praise inside the bloated story of Perseus (Sam Worthington) stubbornly refusing his birthright to avenge his adopted family, it would be Leterrier’s ability to create entertaining chaos in fight choreography pitting actors against animated monsters. Updating battles with giant scorpions, his deformed stepfather Acrisius (Jason Flemyng), and the slithering Medusa (Natalia Vodianova) into large-scale in-your-face mini wars of carnage and consequence, the film makes good on its promise of action. But what of the tale loosely connecting each set-piece together with an ill-conceived mission on behalf of man to defeat the Gods who created them? Watching humanity’s awakening from the blind faith belief has imprisoned them to practice for eternity loses all import when haughty egos are silenced by a physical manifestation of the unknown. What is faith when the only way to instill its power comes from seeing the intangible in the flesh?
But this is what the screenwriters must do to keep true to the story. Truthfully, I’d rather them do so instead of letting divine intervention appear as random coincidence like the abomination that is Troy. If Perseus is going to receive a sword fit for a demigod from Zeus (Liam Neeson), let it be. I’d rather roll my eyes at the convenience of nepotism than throw my arms in the air at the sheer absurdity of dumb luck. Give our hero the tools he needs to find victory by unsubtle assistance and the guidance of a half-immortal in Io (Gemma Arterton). If we’re to believe mankind’s savior was spared from a newborn’s death by a lightning bolt transforming his stepfather into a monster as his would-be tomb floats to the safety of Spyros’ (Pete Postlethwaite) ship, we can forgive fate’s scripted journey and the happily ever after ways it serves its hero’s wellbeing.
It is surprising, however, to see the level of talent partaking in such a lark while receiving minimal screentime. Pitting Neeson’s Zeus against a Ralph Fiennes Hades is inspired on paper but fails to become more than a hollow exercise of gravitas as the former blindingly shines in sunlight and the latter rasps in over-the-top villainy. Their performances are wooden as though to set them apart from the emotive humans beneath them letting feelings interfere with worship. It may have been an effective stylistic approach in 1981 with classically trained thespians like Laurence Olivier on Mt. Olympus, but here it screams of cashing a paycheck with as little work as possible to earn it. I wonder if Danny Huston signed on to play Poseidon thinking he’d be the Kraken’s keeper like in the original only to discover he’d have two minutes in front of the camera.
So we try our best to forget the Gods and focus on the battered few willing to battle for survival and the Princess (Alexa Davalos) who’s public would willingly sacrifice to appease Hades. Worthington’s Perseus fits the one-dimensional action hero role with earnest indifference and a selfish motivation for revenge that evolves into a superhero’s selflessness—doesn’t it always? Watching him run from fight to fight with little to do than follow blatant breadcrumbs leading him to victory by the screenwriters can prove tedious, but the fun band of brothers by his side help mask the blandly linear narrative. With Liam Cunningham, Ashraf Barhom, and the always menacingly brilliant warrior’s scowl of Mads Mikkelsen, the numerous high-octane scrums bring some character with them.
I shouldn’t be too hard on the special effects since the melding of reality and computer is actually pretty fluid despite the unrealistic creatures populating our world. Medusa’s interactions with her lair are great, but the actual aesthetic quality of her character is rather poor. Only the infamous Kraken holds a weak fascination before revealing itself as another insect-like monster a la Cloverfield. With more time spent showing its tentacles uncoiling from the water than is used to show it doing anything violent, it’s long-awaited entrance is one more example of how Clash of the Titans creates anticipation only to let us down. For all the marketing dollars pumped in and the special effects meant to wow audiences into believing they have been transported to Argos, the only memorable scene comes from Hans Matheson, Cunningham, and a flute.
I can only hope the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, finds a way to retain the competent action while also engaging us in a story more worthy than the stake-less journey here. Yes, people die and Perseus is exposed to a steady stream of ailments, but do we ever really fear he won’t save the day? Besides Zeus proving to be quite the dullard when posed with Hades’ solution to reignite the fire of prayer that so obviously is counter-productive in its explanation, there are no surprises. Good is good and evil is evil. Such distinct lines are welcome in children’s fare and tales educating our youth in bravery and sacrifice, but when you’re making a PG-13 adventure trying its best to captivate an older, jaded public seeking ambiguity, gray areas, and antiheroes, the old cowboy formula fails to satisfy.
 SAM WORTHINGTON as Perseus from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ epic action adventure ‘The Clash of the Titans,’ distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment
 The Kraken from a scene in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ ‘Clash of the Titans,’ distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 (L-r) SAM WORTHINGTON as Perseus, LIAM CUNNINGHAM as Solon, MADS MIKKELSEN as Draco, GEMMA ARTERTON as Io and NICHOLAS HOULT as Eusebios in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ ‘Clash of the Titans,’ distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures