Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010): A Review


Editor's Note: It is my policy not to compare a remake with the original in the review, though I will make a compare/contrast in another essay altogether. That being the case, this review for the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans will be reviewed as if the original did not exist.

What Fools These Mortals and Titans Be...

Few films to my memory have been as HEAVILY promoted as the remake of Clash of the Titans. For months it seemed I was surrounded with Sam Worthington's angry, intense face as he battled with the gods, holding Medusa's head in an act of defiance against all Olympus. He even followed me to London and Paris, where the Europeans were given a heads-up (no pun intended) as to what their American cousins were apparently dying to see: a big, loud, massive, violent film with mortals taking on the divine powers. Like all good promotions, Clash of the Titans was beaten into our heads so much that the crowds roared their way into the theaters opening week. Now, it must contend with not just been pushed but being seen. As it stands, Clash made cash but these Titans went down. Hard.

After a brief intro explaining how the Greek gods came about, we go to the story of Perseus, (Worthington) who is found floating in a wooden coffin along with his dead mother, Danae. Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite), the kindly fisherman who finds him, raises him as his own. Into the world of Perseus there is unhappiness. Humans aren't pleased with giving praise and worship to such entities as Zeus (Liam Neeson) or the other Olympians, so they decide to revolt against them, culminating in the army at Argos bringing down the statue of Zeus (which I take it is similar to the Colossus at Rhodes, but I digress). One god, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) does not like this one bit, and he strikes at them by not just killing them, but killing Perseus' family that just happened to be sailing by. Talk about the victims of random acts of violence.

Perseus survives and is taken to the Court of King Kepheus and Queen Cassiopeia (Vincent Regan and Polly Walker). The royal pair, apparently oblivious to how Hades destroyed part of their army, decide to take verbal swipes at the Olympians, with Her Majesty declaring her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) more beautiful than Aphrodite herself. Mortals, apparently, are just incredibly dense...wouldn't you know it, Hades shows up again, and this time he not only takes more with him, but issues an ultimatum: either Andromeda must be made into a human sacrifice or Hades will release the Kraken to Argos' total destruction.

As it turns out, things aren't all bleak. Perseus discovers that he is a demi-god, the son of none other than Zeus himself. With his background, he may be able to find a way to save the city. Of course, since the gods (or rather, the god his uncle) killed his family, he wants nothing to do with his relatives. It takes Io (Gemma Arterton) a woman who cannot age and who has been following Perseus all his life, to convince him he must go on this journey. Leading a small group, they go in search of the Stygian Witches, three blind sisters who share one eye and have vast stores of knowledge. Pursuing Perseus and Company is Acrisius (Jason Flemyng), Danae's former husband in league with Hades. After a fight with large scorpions, they find the witches, who tell him that Medusa, the once-beautiful woman now a hideous monster who can turn all living things to stone, can destroy the Kraken. So it's off to find Medusa.

Clash of the Titans suffers from having no sense of itself, of whether it wants to be serious or fun.  It ends up being neither. It throws a lot into its mix but never stops to answer certain points of logic. I, for one, never understood WHY humans had such a quarrel with the gods. I never understood why Hades had to step in whenever ANOTHER god was getting shafted by the mortals. Why, for example, didn't Aphrodite herself bitch-slap Cassiopeia when she compared her daughter to herself? I at least could guess why Zeus didn't strike when they brought his statue down: he's too fond of human, a divine defect if you will.

It basically reduced all other deities to cameos, since it was basically an issue between Hades and Zeus. At its core, Clash of the Titans wasn't really a clash BETWEEN Titans, since the Olympian gods had overthrown the Titans to rule the universe. It was a big family feud between two brothers: one duplicitous, one oblivious.

All this could be forgiven if the performances themselves were enjoyable, but they weren't. I had written earlier that I suspected Worthington wasn't an ACTOR but an ACTION STAR. If that's what he wants from his career that is his business. However, as in Terminator: Salvation and Avatar, he really isn't playing a character as in speaking lines with no hint of emotion. I think he may have smiled once throughout the film at the sight of Pegasus but in spite of all he goes through: the death of his family, the discovery of his divine parentage, his epic struggle with monsters and mad gods, he never shows any expression besides scowling throughout the film. I applaud his decision, along with director Louis Letterier, to have Worthington keep his Australian accent and not go for a generic American one. I'm not sure what the purpose it actually serves...

Now, when it comes to the gods themselves, I feel they weren't sure how to play them, either as camp or straight. Neeson and Fiennes (reuniting after Schindler's List) may have chosen a middle course, but I was never sure whether to take it seriously or not. Fiennes had this raspy voice and Rasputin-style look to Hades, but all his protests aside he was the more dominant god over Neeson's Zeus, who looked a bit bored and even puzzled as to how he ended up in his shiny armor. I understand Danny Huston was in the film, but his Poseidon really was one of those "blink and you'll miss it" bits: two lines of dialogue I think.

As for the mortals, I won't lie: Arterton's Io was quite lovely to look at, but I never quite followed as to WHY she was Perseus' guide or how she could have (or why she would have) watched over him his whole life. Did she have the gift of prophesy as well? Same goes for Davalos' Andromeda (in the looks department). I figure I focus on their beauty because they really did very little to the actual story. Clash of the Titans is NOT a woman's picture by any means.

I would single out the comic relief in the form of two "warriors" who join Perseus' troops, but frankly, they were neither comedic or a relief from the weak action/acting. I didn't even learn their names because no one in the legion ever had a moment for themselves on screen: it was all Worthington, and even his mighty shoulders couldn't carry this film. I couldn't figure out the motives of anyone and perhaps the script by Travis Beacham, Bill Hay and Matt Manfredi wasn't meant to give us any. It might just be we were supposed to be dulled into mental inertia.

This might explain two of the biggest problems with Clash of the Titans, in fact, two problems that are plaguing many current action films. Vincent Tabaillon and Martin Walsh's editing was so fast that I was confused as to what was going on: quick-quick-quick-bang-bang-bang. At the battle with the scorpions and with the Stygian Witches, I couldn't follow the action because everything moved far too fast to allow any focus (no pun intended). Ramin Djawadi's score did not help matters: loud and overbearing. I won't be harsh on them because this is typical of many films today: it's as if the attention level has gone down so much in the average viewer that giving us steady shots would make our minds explode.

I shouldn't be too harsh, in fact, with Clash of the Titans. It's a film that you SHOULDN'T take seriously. I know that. It may be asking too much to ask for a little intelligence in a mindless action film, but even a mindless action film should have some sense to it. My only fear is that Clash of the Titans will follow up on its suggestion that Perseus may have ANOTHER adventure, thus violating one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel. Olympus deliver us from such a fate.

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