Rapid Review – Clash of the Titans
I promise no “release the Kraken” jokes will be made in this review. Okay, well, just the one…
Anyone who was alive in the 80s when the original Clash of the Titans was released remembers the great joy of seeing this cult classic unfold in 1981. It was so horrific it was awesome. From bad acting, to terrible FX, it ran the gamut of movie cliches, but yet it still managed to accomplish the greatest goal: it was immensely entertaining.
It didn’t surprise me in the least when I heard there was going to be a re-boot of the original. What did surprise me was the studio’s intent to make this a franchise. That’s right – for better or worse, there may be more Clash in the future. The studio envisions it as a trilogy. Whether this is a fantastic revelation or a dreadful miscalculation depends on your tolerance for high amounts of movie cliches, over-the-top acting, and muddled mythology. Myself, I love the heck out of all of the above. Not all movies have to be high art, you know.
For those who haven’t seen the original, and have no background in the basic mythology behind the story, here’s a quick re-cap.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) is a demi-god, son of Zeus (Liam Neeson)and the mortal princess Danae. His mythical family tree reads like an episode of Celebrity Rehab. From domestic abuse to adultery, poor Perseus has seen it all. He barely managed to survive his childhood (his “father” locked his poor mother in a trunk and tried to drown her at sea), but there are more important things afoot in this adaptation.
The vain queen Casseiopeia (played with mischevious glee by Rome‘s Polly Walker) of Argos has stated that her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is more beautiful than Aphrodite herself. Big mistake, as Hades (Ralph Fiennes) arrives shortly after and lets her know exactly who she’s messing with.
Perseus has a destiny. He must rise up and help his dear old dad Zeus and the people of Argos defeat the minions of Hades, who is challenging his brother for control of Mt. Olympus (and by proxy all of us poor humans). Along the way there are plenty of FX monsters to duel, including the slithering Medusa and the legendary Kraken. It’s best that you forget all that you know about the precepts and mythology that inspired this film. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy trying to rationalize plot points and family connections. Save yourself the trouble.
Director Louis Letterier has wisely chosen to take his own path when re-designing the original course and scope of the film. The original was a very straight-forward hero’s journey, rife with the usual elements of the damsel in distress, a world to be saved, and a mentor along to steer the hero on the right path. Letterier’s previous credits include The Transporter and the 2008 version of The Incredible Hulk. At 36, he’s venturing into epic territory normally dominated by directors such as Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner) and Wolfgang Peterson (Troy). He has altered the original myth and obliterated the precepts of the original movie, some for better and some for worse.
Since this film has already been established as the beginning of a three film series, it bears the burden of creating the necessary character development and mythos needed to power the franchise.
Taking a cue from the original, Letterier wisely chooses to cast notable Brit actors as the pantheon of gods and goddesses. Some fare better than others. Liam Neeson is acceptably winking and towering as Zeus. Ralph Fiennes, however, plays Hades as a cheesy mess, with a wavering, hoarse voice not unlike a sorority girl who’s spent 8 hours at a bar drinking and smoking. His complexion resembles that of a AARP member who’s spent one too many days on the beach at Boca (complete with flaking, sunburnt forehead). Someone get the guy some Lubriderm, stat.
Sam Worthington, who was a breath of fresh air in Terminator: Salvation and lost in the shuffle of grandeur that was Avatar, is again at the forefront of the action. He’s a stalwart and convincing leading man, and the change from Harry Hamlin’s effeminate and toga-clad Perseus is greatly appreciated. Worthington’s Perseus is a man’s man and a woman’s dream. This is the hero who can tackle the end of the world appropriately, and with a canny wink in those sparkling eyes of his. He knows that his performance is merely the garnish on a plate heaping with meaty CGI. He is also the only modern-looking character in the film. Take his character from Avatar and slap a suit of leather armor on him and you are good to go.
Alexa Davalos, as Andromeda, gets short shrift. She’s a convincing damsel in distress, but I’d be willing to bet that most of her original lines were left on the cutting room floor. Davalos is one to watch – she was surprisingly deft in her small role in the Holocaust drama Defiance, and held her own admirably in a sidekick role alongside Vin Diesel in The Chronicles of Riddick. She’s my number one choice to play Chani (another great strong role) in the re-boot of Dune, if anyone is listening….
It’s Gemma Arterton’s immortal sidekick Io (she refused Zeus’s advances and was punished with immortality) who has the main female role in this re-tread, and she’s a welcome addition. Managing to hold her own with Perseus and his rag-tag ‘boys’ club” of human companions, she’s witty and plucky without looking too unbelievably proto-feminist for Ancient Greece. She can be just one of the guys, but there’s a chemistry between her and Worthington’s Perseus that manages to change the vision of the original myth (and no doubt the course of the franchise), perhaps for the better.
Mads Mikkelson (the villain in Casino Royale) and Hans Matheson (most recently Archbishop Cranmer on The Tudors) round out Perseus’s group of allies, and they provide some needed human emotions to the hustle and bustle of the hectic “hurry up and save the world” pace of the movie.
The key when viewing Clash of the Titans is to remember its overall purpose. There are no grand moral lessons here, no brilliant character arcs to enjoy. It is pure, unadulterated entertainment of the mindless kind. Scenery must and WILL be chewed with great alacrity. The sugar rush is fantastic – like when you were a kid and attempted to suck down as many Pixie Stix as possible in one setting. Clash makes no bones about its intent. On that level, it is a marvelous success.
In other words, enjoy the chaos that is Clash of the Titans. Have fun, kids.
Note on the “3D” version of Clash of the Titans – unlike Avatar, the film was not originally shot to be viewed by audiences in 3D, but was “re-mastered” later. The ads would have you believe otherwise. Maybe someday we can look forward to Gone With the Wind or Schindler’s List in 3D at this rate. “Buyer Beware”, indeed.
Overall Grade: C+