Director Louis Leterrier’s remake of the campy 1981 film Clash of the Titans pays homage to its predecessor in that you have to mock both films in order to keep them interesting. Even if you can somehow get past the forgettable characters, the dull action sequences, and the sloppy pacing, you still have to confront a central conflict that makes absolutely no sense. And may the gods help you if you pay to see it in 3D. By the end of Clash of the Titans you’ll be begging for the simple charm of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures and Harry Hamlin’s dumbfounded facial expression.
The people of Argos have chosen to invent hubris (which is actually a Greek word) and the gods of Olympus are less than pleased at this decision, particularly Zeus (Liam Neeson) who needs the love of mankind in order to fuel his mojo. Convinced by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) that Argos needs to be put in its place, Zeus decides to release the Kraken on the city in ten days unless they sacrifice their princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the titan. And really, what city wouldn’t love a god after he’s killed their princess and destroyed their home?
Enter Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demigod who doesn’t know he’s a demigod until his family is collateral damage in Hades’ attack on some snotty Argarians. Seeking vengeance on Hades, Perseus agrees to save Argos from the Kraken because killing the Kraken will hurt Hades and holy hell it’s already stupid. Zeus controls the Kraken, but the Kraken belongs to Hades and creates the fear that fuels Hades’ mojo, but for some unexplained reason Zeus doesn’t know this. That’s good because Hades wants revenge on Zeus for tricking him into ruling the underworld. Again, Zeus doesn’t realize that maybe, maybe his brother would want vengeance for getting fooled into taking the job of King Shit of Fuck Mountain. To conclude: Zeus is really stupid.
But here’s where the movie fails completely on a storytelling level: Perseus sets out to defeat the Kraken (begrudgingly, as are almost all of his actions in the film-he’s not reluctant, but selfishly stubborn). Perseus is the son of Zeus, so Zeus wants to protect Perseus. He gives Perseus a badass sword and little tips to protect Perseus whose quest is to stop Zeus from destroying Argos. This all begs the question: if Zeus wants to protect Perseus, why doesn’t he just call off the Kraken? It’s a lose-lose situation for Zeus. Oh, that’s right. Zeus is really, really, stupid. To make matters more confusing, Hades makes a henchman in Calibos (Jason Flemyng) even though Hades has already demonstrated he can just take out guys on his own.
Leaping across this huge logic gap, Perseus is joined by a small band of Argarian soldiers led by their captain Draco (Mads Mikkelsen). The film is so eager to cut to the big action scenes that it doesn’t take the time to introduce these supporting characters we’re supposed to root for. Their names are quickly mumbled and we’re forced to distinguish them as old, sarcastic soldier (Liam Cunningham), wide-eyed neophyte soldier (Nicholas Hoult), and Orlando Bloom-looking soldier (Hans Matheson). They’re joined by wooden Djinn guy (Ian Whyte), two thrill-seeking hunters, and the immortal and smokin-hot Io (Gemma Arterton).
Let’s take a moment for her because Io is a good example of the film’s incoherent characterization and storytelling. Arteron gives a fine performance but it appears that her character has been hastily chopped into the film to add diversity to the group and have an emotionally ambivalent relationship to Perseus. Io is cursed to never age but chooses to serve as a protector for Perseus since his birth (for a reason that’s never explained) and joins the fellowship…except you almost never see her in the same shot with the rest of the group. Her character also seems to have a platonic relationship with Perseus until they’re suddenly on top of each other while training to fight Medusa (training that would benefit the whole group, but only Perseus gets) and he’s being told to “Calm his storm.” So Io is no longer an equal of Perseus, but instead she’s the ultimate cougar.
That line, “Calm your storm,” is idiomatic of the whole film in that there’s an earnestness that is respectable until it becomes overbearing. I don’t mind that Clash of the Titans plays it straight , but when faced with a choice about whether to show restraint or go bigger, Leterrier always choose the latter. For all the elaborate sets and cool costumes (although the hair and make-up is atrocious), good direction is about choices and, “When is doubt, go bigger,” sets decision-making to automatic. When you take this approach you get, for example, a zealot of Hades in Argos who makes the audience uncomfortable in how horny he is to sacrifice Andromeda. Even funnier, everyone in Argos has no problem making insane, dirty, naked, scraggly guy their leader.
Finally, there’s the 3D. I cannot stress enough that if you choose to see this film (and you really shouldn’t), do not pay to see it in 3D. It is a scam. Taking off my glasses at various points in the film, I could see that there was hardly any separation (the less convergence there is, the less they’re bring elements forward to create the illusion of depth) so that it just looked like a blurry projection. When the film does try to make a move for 3D, it looks awful. Trees bubble, characters look like cut-outs, and the CGI looks cheap. One of the more bizarre examples is when Hades’ brow juts forward while the rest of his head remains in place. Warner Bros. chose to up-convert the film at the last minute and it shows.
There’s not much to say about Clash of the Titans that’s positive. If it hadn’t scrambled its plot so badly, there could be an interesting idea about the conflict between faith in supreme beings (who in this case are physically present and identifiable) and the desire of man to forge his own destiny and break free of the whims of petty gods. The production value is impressive and the decision to use practical sets pays off well. Arterton gives a good performance and Fiennes provides an interesting, if not entirely successful, take on his character. But these minor victories can’t overcome Clash‘s torrent of defeat. The result is a wannabe epic that rushes to its underwhelming set pieces but can’t be bothered with little things like “story” and “characters” and “coherence.”