Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Clash of the Titans (2010) Review

Clash of the Titans (2010)
Damn the script!

After watching the original Clash of the Titans (1981) again not too long ago, I was actually welcoming the prospect of a modern remake. Sure, some of the effects were still very effective and Ray Harryhausen’s craftsmanship and care was felt, but I found most of the effects to be very dated and they didn’t even look like they were good for the time. It is a movie that relies heavily on nostalgia and childhood memories to get most of its entertainment value. For this remake, some hope came through when a capable director and cast were brought on board. Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) is a director that certainly knows his way around action scenes and Sam Worthington just keeps racking up the big action roles at such an early point in his career. But when boiled down to its essence, the new Clash is pure trailer fodder: A classic Greek mythology story dressed up with big-name actors, great visuals, grand visual effects, and fast action that is built around shoddy and haphazard writing.

Plot Synopsis: Perseus, after being cast away at birth for being the son of Zeus and a human queen, now lives as a fisherman with his stepfather. One day, when they arrive at the kingdom of Argos, they find the Argos people knocking down a nearby statue of Zeus in protest because they believe the gods are punishing them more than helping. Angered by this action, Zeus sends his brother Hades down to Earth to teach the humans a lesson. In the ensuing attack, Perseus’ ship is caught in the fight, which takes the lives of his family. He makes his way to the king’s temple, where Hades makes a quick return to warn the people that if they do not sacrifice their princess, Andromeda, then he will unleash the Kraken on their city and lay waste to it. Perseus reluctantly joins a band of soldiers that sets out on a quest to figure out some method of defeating the Kraken, which is too massive and powerful to be killed by mortal weapons. Along the way they will fight such creatures as the deformed Calibos (who may have a personal connection to Perseus), gigantic Scorpions, the Stygian witches, and the Gorgon Medusa until finally being able to face the Kraken.


After previously starring in Terminator Salvation and Avatar, it is clear that Sam Worthington has the screen presence and physicality to be an action star; but after Clash of the Titans I’m starting to grow weary of whether he can capitalize on that and deliver a performance that matches his promise. It’s not his fault entirely, because there seems to be multiple stretches where Perseus isn’t allowed to speak a word, but if Worthington wants to survive any longer in Hollywood, he’s needs to give more than just likable, yet average work. The supporting actors prove to be more colorful than our hero is. Liam Neeson makes for a credible and authoritative Zeus with his towering height and powerful voice. Mads Mikkelsen (who played the villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) plays Draco, leader of the Argos soldiers, with the proper level of battle-hardened strength and even a little humor (I’d say he’s the best actor in the cast). Hades is played by Ralph Fiennes with an appropriately hissy menace, although I felt like he was channeling Voldemort with more hair and a nose more often than not. I don’t want to rag on Gemma Artherton too much for her role as Io, because she is both beautiful and a capable actress, but the character doesn’t do much except spit out mythology back-story and become an unnecessary love interest for Perseus.

Which then brings me to the movies fatal flaw: the handling of Andromeda. Because Perseus is now motivated by his hatred for Hades, and Io is his object of affection, Andromeda (who is supposed to be the driving force behind his quest to kill the Kraken) is shoved to the side and there was no reason for me to care whether she lived or died. I don’t mind when Greek mythology stories are reformatted and shifted around (I loved Disney’s version of Hercules), but when the important aspects of the stories are botched, then we have a problem. The same goes for the fact that Hades controls the Kraken in this version. Shouldn’t Poseidon, the god of water, be handling the underwater beast? But even when taken out of the boundaries of mythology, the script has numerous other problems. There’s quite a lot of cheesy dialogue that pops up in the last act (Perseus even calls Medusa a bitch at one point, hardly something an ancient Greek hero would say), there are plenty of holes for those paying any attention to pick apart, and important characters pop in to introduce themselves and then either disappear for long stretches of time or don’t return at all (Calibos and Andromeda are the biggest culprits).


This leaves director Leterrier to chime in and make the most out of the sloppy writing. Before I get into the action scenes, I will say that the overall visual look of the film is great, appearing like a more crumbled version of ancient Greece than what we are used to in movies based on Greek mythology. The change in Pegasus from being a white horse to a black one didn’t bother me too much until he had to fly with the similarly dark harpies and they were hard to distinguish. The makeup and prosthetic work on the non-computer generated monsters such as Calibos and the witches is excellent, which begs the question why another human size creature such as Medusa couldn’t have been at least partly made of practical effects. Medusa was, without a doubt, the best effect and aspect of the original Clash, but here she is arguably the worst of the various digital creations on display. She looks like she was brought in from some videogame cinematic rather than being animated and detailed enough to be convincing on the big screen. The other denizens of Greece fare much better, with the scorpions looking great and the new Kraken, in my opinion, is an improvement on Ray Harryhausen’s “Gill-Man” version. And while most of the battles are staged with grace and ferocity, a few of them, such as the scorpion fight and a small tussle with the witches, resort to some really hard to follow quick editing techniques.

This is not to say the movie was a complete wash though. Taken as a whole experience, I found Clash of the Titans to be reasonably enjoyable and fun (there was quite a bit of humorous character interaction that kept me entertained), but it was missing that spark to liven up the plot. Had they left out the new characters, emphasized more important aspects of the story, and improved the special effects in a respectable way, this movie could have been a blast. As it stands, it’s just another example of a strong modern visualization of the story without a coherent plot to tie it together in a meaningful way.


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