Clash of the Titans

Poor Perseus. He just got turned into a 21st-century American teen with a new father (Poseidon) to kick off the poor boy's Harry Potter franchise, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Now he's got his old father (Zeus) and demi-god adult-form back, but he's stuck in an even gloomier world than post-Obama-hopeistan USA—a digitized, theatrical Mediterranean with plummy-voiced British actors and giant, roaring monsters (or is that plummy-voiced monsters and giant, roaring British actors?).

It's back to the future-ized past with Clash of the Titans, an update of the 1981 flick (cheesier than feta). This version, saturated in the many hues of coal black, is a super-serious odyssey. Perseus (Sam Worthington) is all grim-faced and vengeance-burning; the gods are all bad-business, especially Hades (Ralph Fiennes), suffering from one of the worst cases of dastardly-guy-bent-back-and-raspy Voice Disease ever crouched and growled out on screen.

The plot's one of those restless beasts that closes its eyes during stretches of dialogue only to lurch awake for a battle scene. Fisherman Perseus' adoptive family's killed by Hades after his demons swoop in to slaughter Argos soldiers who toppled a statue of Zeus. Then we're off to Argos, whose King and Queen see their declared age of man last about a second before Hades tells them he'll unleash the Kraken (relocated from its Norse-myth habitat) unless they reverently sacrifice daughter Andromeda. So then Perseus is off with battle-mates to fight a giant scorpion, see three witches—not seers or prophetesses, but then, also anachronistically, Andromeda apparently acts like a "missionary" and Zeus (Liam Neeson) wears glinting plate-armour—and head off to the Underworld to decapitate Medusa, then fight a Hades-twisted King Acrisius, then back to Argos on Pegasus to face down the Kraken and get his vengeful shot at Hades. Call this theme-park ride "Around the Ancient World in 80 Minutes."

The scorpion fight has thrills and the desert-spirit Djinns (though one is, in an anti-Muslim touch, made a suicide bomber) are much more memorable than the bland Argonauts. But the classical notion of Fate's blown off. Perseus rejects the gods' favours (they really are assholes, so why should we want their order restored?) but the movie puts him on a pedestal while pretending to offer a good-guys-stick-together ideal. We hardly learn a character's name before he's killed. Creatures get ridiculously larger and deadlier as action-scenes advance to the next video-game level.

Like Medusa's coif of writhing snakes, the film's modern rejection of the divine gets tangled up with a Christian emphasis on the scheming, Devil-like Hades and the gods' hissy-fit for attention (Zeus says they need humans' love; Hades says they only need humans' fear). As in the myths, women are often violated or sacrificed by gods and men, but the movie adds a Madonna-whore complex, so radiant Io (Gemma Arterton) is a guardian angel forever by Perseus' side while Medusa, though we're told she was raped by Poseidon, is reduced to a "bitch."

Flashbacks to the original's stop-motion effects and campiness would be welcome, just to relieve the dull, grey spiritlessness (there's precisely one joke). By Jove, where's Bacchus and a good old-fashioned orgy when we need one?

Clash of the Titans
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Beverley Cross
Starring Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson
1 stars

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