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April 4, 2010

5

Movie Review – Clash of the Titans (2010)

by HELEN GEIB

Clash of the Titans is a series of effects-driven action set-pieces strung on a clothesline plot and dressed up with classical mythology trappings. I enjoyed the ride, but the movie is not well-balanced and your mileage may vary.

It is officially a remake of the 1981 film of the same title. In fact, it’s pretty much a remake in name only. There aren’t many similarities and what similarities there are, are mostly attributable to the common underlying source material. The salient differences for understanding what type of movie this new version is, are that a) the “remake” shows little interest in the myths beyond their potential to supply fearsome creatures in colorful settings for a human hero to do battle with and b) the filmmakers were unable or unwilling to enter into the historical spirit and engage with the myths and mythmakers on their own terms.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) was rescued from the sea as an infant and raised by his salt-of-the-sea fisherman rescuer (Pete Postlethwaite) and his wife as their own. Twenty-some years later he is again cast adrift by tragedy when the family is caught in the crossfire of an escalating humans vs. the gods fight centered on the city-state Argos. Told to his astonishment that he is actually the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), Perseus determines to take his revenge on the indiscriminately destructive Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades meanwhile is busily stoking the fires in Argos in an offshoot of his eternal rivalry with his brother Zeus, who has long been feasting on mortals’ love in Olympos while Hades feeds on crumbs of hate in the Underworld. As he embarks on his perilous quest, Perseus, embittered against all the gods, rejects his divine lineage and vows to fight always as a mortal man.

The film’s “Who needs the gods? Not us!” philosophizing is simpleminded and unimaginative, while its idea of drama is to have Perseus and other characters periodically declaim words to that effect. Besides Zeus and Hades, the gods barely appear on-screen and don’t register at all when they do. Neeson and Fiennes’ performances as the top dogs are as flat as the writing for their characters. Worthington is attractive and strikes a few sparks, but even his hero’s part is underwritten (and saddled with some lame dialogue). The same can be said of Gemma Arterton in/and the part of Perseus’ love interest. Mads Mikkelsen (the Danish actor who played the villain in Casino Royale) delivers the film’s standout performance as the commander of the detachment of Argos soldiers that accompanies Perseus.

At this point, you’re probably asking why I said I enjoyed this movie since I haven’t had anything very positive to say about it yet. The answer is easy: I enjoy a flashy action set-piece cloaked in exotica, and that is exactly what Clash of the Titans is all about. There is some humor and romance along the way, but the action, helmed by director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2), is the point.

The action tent poles are the three lengthy battles against immense desert scorpions, Medusa, and the Kraken. Each has elaborate sets and effects; the staging is grandly scaled to encompass multiple fighting fronts in the first two cases and subsidiary foes in the third. (The gradual attrition of Perseus’ comrades being, in contrast to most of the film, fully in keeping with the conventions of classical mythology.) The production design stands out in the Medusa sequence, fought in the ruins of a grand temple in the Underworld. In between are smaller-scale fights, encounters with mysterious mythological creatures, and travel through otherworldly locales.

2 1/2 stars

Note: I saw the film in 2-D, which is how it was made to be seen prior to the 11th hour addition of some 3-D effects.


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Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Commentary Track review of Clash of the Titans by Nir Shalev.

I’ll take Clash of the Titans over Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief any day.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nir Shalev
    Apr 6 2010

    Yeah, I hear that this film features, quite possibly, the worst 3D ever seen. Because it was, as you mentioned shot in glorious 2D.
    I hear the Friday the 13th Part 3 (in 3D) has a better 3D design. Funny, no?

  2. Helen
    Apr 6 2010

    Nothing could induce me to watch a 2-D movie retrofitted for 3-D.

  3. Nir Shalev
    Apr 8 2010

    Good. Now, if only EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD felt that way, as well…

  4. doc
    Apr 10 2010

    For the myths to work, characters such as Perseus must show features of their divine as well as their human parent. In the myths the divine spark took many forms: often an aura, a talent, or a power. But in whatever form, the spark needed to be there to allow the listener to the tale to be able to reflect upon what was mortal in each of us. To deny that divine linkage, as Clash (and Percy Jackson, for that matter) do, is to defeat the purpose of the exercise. What you end up with in both films are just sullen young males acting out their immaturity.

  5. Helen
    Apr 13 2010

    I don’t know that the basic dramatic plot device- the demigod rejecting his divine heritage out of resentment towards the capricious behavior of the gods- could never work, but I certainly don’t disagree that it was not at all interesting as presented. Percy Jackson was even worse in that respect (and others!); at least in this film, the gods didn’t want to be human too.

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