The newly remade “Clash of the Titans” is what happens when a couple Hollywood producers are convinced a three thousand-year-old legend could use a little punch-up.
“OK, so, like, I dig the story and all, but I’ve got some notes. First, the hero, he’s all squeaky clean and stuff. Folks don’t buy that anymore. We need to make him angry at the gods, you know, a pissed-off rebel who wants to do everything on his own. But can you beef up the roles for the other warriors? You know, maybe have one of them be a mentor type, so we can have a couple training scenes? Those are easy to film, and we’ve seen them a hundred times before. Old ideas make me comfortable. I also like the long journey – make sure we get lots of swooping helicopter shots of the men walking across snowy mountains and grassy fields and stuff, just like in ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Oh, and make sure all of the guys dress like the characters in ‘300,’ because that movie made a ton of cash. We need to add a hot chick in there, too, someone who can join the mission. I know the princess has to stay in the city, so just throw someone else in there, and make sure she’s hot. Hot chicks are hot. And since the hero is mad at the gods, everyone should be, too. Ooh, yeah, maybe that’s what’s the problem – everyone’s mad at the gods, and they’re mad right back. I don’t get this whole ‘pettiness of the gods reflects the foibles of man’ business. What the hell’s a ‘foible,’ anyway? Just make ’em pissed off. One of the gods can be the bad guy. How about Hades? He’s, like, the bad god, right, like the devil or something? Yeah. Make him the bad guy. The other bad guy, what’s his name? Calibos? I don’t get this whole curse thing. Just make him secretly related to the hero instead. Oh, and we need to have a badass genie in there. Genies are Greek, right?”
And that’s only half of it. Sure, the 1981 “Titans” was a mish-mash of mythology, too, but at least those filmmakers managed to work an actual story out of their Greek myth stew; the three writers credited on this remake forget to include much of an actual plot, or character, or logic. It’s as if the script was based not on Beverly Cross’ original screenplay, but on the recollections of someone who watched the older film a couple years ago while drunk. We get the main story points, usually in order, but the dots never connect.
(It doesn’t help that director Louis Leterrier – who made “The Incredible Hulk” and “Unleashed,” so we know he can deliver when necessary – makes most of the action sequences so frenetic and poorly staged that we can never really tell what’s going on, to whom, and where. It’s not enough for this movie to not make sense from scene to scene; it lacks logic within those scenes, too.)
The revised story explains, via bulky voiceover exposition, how the gods are losing their powers because humanity isn’t worshiping them enough these days. (The gods apparently get their power from prayer. But how did they get their power before people were around? Hey, man, just roll with it.) When a gang of soldiers from Argos riot and destroy a statue of Zeus, the gods strike back by letting Hades (Ralph Fiennes) unleash some gargoyle-ish thingies upon the seaside. Alas, this also leads to the drowning death of a kindly fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) and his family – but not their adopted son, Perseus (Sam Worthington, inexplicably wearing his “Avatar” crew cut and only bothering to hide is Aussie accent in half the scenes), who’s revealed to be the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson).
Perseus winds up in Argos and, like any good hero, ends up not doing anything for the first ninety minutes of the movie. Sure, he learns how to swordfight from noble warrior Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), and there’s a whole heap of talk about how important he is, but really, he does nothing. For an entire three quarters of the film. Nothing.
Well, he does manage to whine. Oh, Perseus is a whiner, through and through. He’s mad at the gods for killing his family, and once he discovers his true heritage – a revelation so clumsily handled we can’t blame Worthington too much for not bothering to react in any way to it – he decides he must refuse to “become like them,” a phrase repeated throughout the script but never fully explained. Become like how they’re powerful, you mean? Like how a couple of them are evil? Or is this just a “I can man up and do it on my own” chunk of macho gumption?
I’m not so certain it’s the latter, although I am certain the screenwriters thought it would be. Themes of self-reliance abound, with Perseus repeatedly rejecting gifts from the gods – except, of course, when the plot calls for him to use those gifts. Then he’s OK doing that. You bet I’ll use Zeus’ magic lightsaber-y sword to kill the baddies, and yessiree, I’ll gladly participate in multiple – and quite literal – dei ex machinis to get me out of some sticky situations, and, oh, hey, thanks for the Pegasus, too, but make no mistake: I’m doing this alone, like a real man!
So Perseus is in Argos, and he stumbles into a bit of insider politics as the queen (Polly Walker) gloats that her daughter (Alexa Davelos) is more beautiful than the goddesses, which is enough to anger… well, it’s supposed to anger Thetis, but nobody really bothered giving any of the non-Zeus/Hades gods any lines, so Hades shows up instead, relaying the message that Thetis is royally cheesed by the queen’s talk. It’s Hades who whips up the “sacrifice the princess or we’ll level Argos” threat. (By the end of the picture, the kraken does enough damage either way; I think they just wanted to show some major monster destruction and didn’t care if it mattered within the plot.)
Once the locals find out Perseus is a demigod, they shanghai him into joining Draco on some vague quest to find out how to stop the kraken. Perseus, being a grade-A ineffective hero, requires much convincing. Eventually they ride off, encountering giant scorpions and wicked monsters and strange genies made of wood (yes, really), and every single time, Perseus does nothing; it’s his cohorts who save the day. Perseus’ job here is to swing his sword a couple times, fall over, and get rescued by nameless beefy supporting characters. The poor lug doesn’t even get more than a handful of sentences in dialogue until somewhere around the midway point.
Joining them on this voyage is Io (Gemma Arterton), a former lover of Zeus, cursed to eternal life and eternal beauty. (They left out the part of the myth where Io is turned into a cow. I suppose once you’ve cast someone who looks like Gemma Arterton, you’re smart enough to keep her in human form as long as possible.) Io has been watching over Perseus his entire life and has now decided to hang around out in the open. Because the plot requires it, the two fall in love (in as best a display of affection Worthington can muster while still maintaining a complete absence of charisma or personality).
But wait, what about the princess? Wasn’t she the love interest? Doesn’t the addition of Io give the princess nothing to do? Doesn’t making her a non-entity undermine the importance of her impending sacrifice? Doesn’t her reappearance late in the film merely distract us from what we thought was the main story? Those are such good points. It’s a shame the screenwriters didn’t think of them.
Everything that follows is a half-baked checklist of half-remembered moments from the original film, only cranked up in an effort to be bigger and louder, if not more effective. (Even Bubo the mechanical owl shows up, in a ten-second throwaway joke that plays about as subtly and as cleverly as having Harry Hamlin jog across the screen while shouting “I’m Harry Hamlin and I was in the original film! Now back to the remake!”) The plot carries our heroes from point to point and monster to monster, but there’s no rhythm to it, no appreciation for the story as a whole, no purpose to the adventure besides getting us to the next hollow set piece. You could rearrange half these scenes and still wind up with the same movie.
It’s only until all of Perseus’ sidekicks are killed off – either due to Perseus’ incompetence or their having to display courage because, sheesh, somebody has to in this movie – that the meathead finally mans up and takes the lead. (At this point, we have twenty minutes left in the film.) He fights Calibos (Jason Flemyng), a villain done up like a Klingon burn victim and messily reduced to the role of Hades’ toadie, perhaps because everyone insisted the character remain in the film but nobody bothered to think up a reason to keep him around. Then it’s off to defeat the kraken, in a scene that combines all the tedium of a bland CG special effect with all the inelegance of a sloppily written climax.
Meanwhile, we have the gods themselves. The writers tried their hardest to make them more vital to the plot, not quite understanding the whole point of gods-as-manipulators. This leaves us with plenty of shouty exchanges which eventually boil down to an effort by Hades to overthrow Zeus – the sort of thing that probably sounded important during a pitch meeting but ultimately comes off as filler.
Back on solid ground, there’s not much happening. There are battles and escapes and dire warnings, to be sure, but it’s all as clumsy and as empty and as faux-epic as a Michael Bay movie. It’s Perseus on the road to nowhere. At least the 1981 crew remembered to have things actually happen in between the Harryhausen bits.