by HELEN GEIB
Clash of the Titans is a series of effects-driven action set-pieces strung on a clothesline plot and dressed up with classical mythology trappings. I enjoyed the ride, but the movie is not well-balanced and your mileage may vary.
It is officially a remake of the 1981 film of the same title. In fact, it’s pretty much a remake in name only. There aren’t many similarities and what similarities there are, are mostly attributable to the common underlying source material. The salient differences for understanding what type of movie this new version is, are that a) the “remake” shows little interest in the myths beyond their potential to supply fearsome creatures in colorful settings for a human hero to do battle with and b) the filmmakers were unable or unwilling to enter into the historical spirit and engage with the myths and mythmakers on their own terms.
Perseus (Sam Worthington) was rescued from the sea as an infant and raised by his salt-of-the-sea fisherman rescuer (Pete Postlethwaite) and his wife as their own. Twenty-some years later he is again cast adrift by tragedy when the family is caught in the crossfire of an escalating humans vs. the gods fight centered on the city-state Argos. Told to his astonishment that he is actually the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), Perseus determines to take his revenge on the indiscriminately destructive Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades meanwhile is busily stoking the fires in Argos in an offshoot of his eternal rivalry with his brother Zeus, who has long been feasting on mortals’ love in Olympos while Hades feeds on crumbs of hate in the Underworld. As he embarks on his perilous quest, Perseus, embittered against all the gods, rejects his divine lineage and vows to fight always as a mortal man.
The film’s “Who needs the gods? Not us!” philosophizing is simple-minded and unimaginative, while its idea of drama is to have Perseus and other characters periodically declaim words to that effect. Besides Zeus and Hades, the gods barely appear on-screen and don’t register at all when they do. Neeson and Fiennes’ performances as the top dogs are as flat as the writing for their characters. Worthington is attractive and strikes a few sparks, but even his hero’s part is underwritten (and saddled with some lame dialogue). The same can be said of Gemma Arterton in/and the part of Perseus’ love interest. Mads Mikkelsen (the Danish actor who played the villain in Casino Royale) delivers the film’s standout performance as the commander of the detachment of Argos soldiers that accompanies Perseus.
At this point, you’re probably asking why I said I enjoyed this movie since I haven’t had anything very positive to say about it yet. The answer is easy: I enjoy a flashy action set-piece cloaked in exotica, and that is exactly what Clash of the Titans is all about. There is some humor and romance along the way, but the action, helmed by director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2), is the point.
The action tent poles are the three lengthy battles against immense desert scorpions, Medusa, and the Kraken. Each has elaborate sets and effects; the staging is grandly scaled to encompass multiple fighting fronts in the first two cases and subsidiary foes in the third. (The gradual attrition of Perseus’ comrades being, in contrast to most of the film, fully in keeping with the conventions of classical mythology.) The production design stands out in the Medusa sequence, fought in the ruins of a grand temple in the Underworld. In between are smaller-scale fights, encounters with mysterious mythological creatures, and travel through otherworldly locales.
2 1/2 stars
Note: I saw the film in 2-D, which is how it was made to be seen prior to the 11th hour addition of some 3-D effects.
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I’ll take Clash of the Titans over Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief any day.