In theory, the best thing about a movie like Clash of the Titans is that there’s no Oscar-ballot discussion of deeper meaning. It was an epic B-movie in 1981, and it’s an epic B-movie now. (Motto: If you’re looking for a fifteen-minute eardrum-busting fight between nameless soldiers and enormous scorpions, you’ve come to the right place.)
And there is something exciting about the formula of a great B-movie; it’s as if they exist in a shared canon that builds shorthand with its audience. (It means that we smile when Pete Postlethwaite shows up in a cameo as the grizzled father figure, because of course he is.) For Clash of the Titans, this job should be even easier; it’s built on one of cinema’s most legendary clunkers, and so is in a unique position to improve on its source material and churn out a great mythological action flick.
Unfortunately, Clash of the Titans overshoots Popcornville and ends up in Disastertown.
This is what the filmmakers missed: even if a movie is only going for pulp appeal, it still has to have solid characters, make sense, and be engaging, and this one fails on every front. In trying to improve on the original, Clash of the Titans makes no sense whatsoever, and does so at eighty-five decibels. It’s the rare film that manages to be simultaneously bombastic and half-hearted.
Perseus and his adoptive fishing family sail into harbor just in time to see soldiers declaring war on Zeus. The soldiers are swiftly punished by Hades (because Zeus is busy, I guess), who strikes down the boat and leaves Perseus a god-hating orphan. He’s picked up and taken to Argos, where Hades is giving the city ten days before the Kraken destroys it. (Scandinavian mythological figures look around, confused as to how the kraken got that far south). When Perseus is discovered to be the son of Zeus, he must lead a motley crew to vanquish the Kraken.
And here, the movie goes completely off the rails. The contingent that accompanies Perseus consists of unnamed doomed soldiers, hunters, and magical djinn (Arabic mythological creatures look around, confused). They have the makings of a solid ensemble cast, notably Mads Mikkelsen’s captain of the guard, but the movie makes it clear they’re all cannon fodder, and most of them never even get names. Instead, the story focuses exclusively on Perseus and his reluctance to accept the gifts Zeus offers him, because he’s out to destroy gods, not become one of them. This cop plays by his own rules, dammit!
Here’s the thing. Even if Sam Worthington was a good enough actor to carry off this conflict (and he’s not), the modern construct of man vs. destiny just doesn’t hold water in a framework where gods actively affect outcomes. (When your man-at-arms is confronting you about using the magic sword Zeus hurled at you, and he’s the one making sense, you have officially lost your hero.) Plus, for a guy who makes so much noise about using only his own resources, he triumphs an awful lot from the assistance of his entourage – throughout the endless action scenes, and even at the movie’s climax, it’s someone else, not Perseus, who comes through in the clinch.
The conflict unfolding on Olympus is just as muddled; Hades is trying to overthrow Zeus because he’s unhappy with his lot, which might fly with people who have never read a Greek myth, except that even the gods seem confused as to how exactly threatening people with the kraken child of Hades will drive the necessary energizing prayers from mortals to the god of their choice. (Liam Neeson and his glittering armor seem duly embarrassed by all this; Ralph Fiennes has moved beyond shame, and just Voldemorts his way through the frame.)
The script is such a mess that ostensible love-interest Andromeda stays behind and wanders aimlessly through the doomed city; her place on the quest is taken by the endlessly-informed Io, who provides rape-heavy backstories about whatever monster they’re about to face. (If you think this will play out weirdly at the end of the movie, you have no idea.)
If the movie wanted to tackle free will in an age of gods, it might have worked. If they had gone for the full-pulp potential of its ensemble cast, it might have worked. Instead, Clash of the Titans feels like a movie thrown together from a stack of index cards marked up with action-movie tropes, CGI demos, and Mythology 101 lecture notes.
I never thought I’d say this, but the first Clash of the Titans was the better film; if you must watch a fifteen-minute fight against huge scorpions, that’s the place to go.
Genevieve was pleased to see Hans Matheson getting work; that was the only thing that pleased her about this movie. She writes about other beleaguered supporting actors on her blog.