by Brett Parker
Clash of the Titans is a pop feast madly in love with the outsized aspects of Greek mythology. There is almost zero modesty in the film's depiction of the dandified Gods of Olympus and the havoc they wreak on the paranoid humans below. This film is an ancient peacock of unapologetic fantasy. This stark raving adventure is basked in hopelessly fun CGI work that essentially makes this film an excuse for dazzling eye candy. If you're romantic for the more fantastical elements of Greek mythology and have a sweet tooth for blockbuster effects spectacles, Clash of the Titans will certainly put a delighted smile on your face.
The film takes place in ancient Greek times within the city of Argos, where a bitter war is brewing between the humans and the gods. The inhabitants of Earth have grown tired of the Gods messing around with their fates and they begin a misguided revolt against their spiritual rulers (their efforts appear half-baked and clueless; how do you stand up against almighty Gods?). This angers Zeus (Liam Neeson), the head God of Olympus who loves his human creations and cannot fathom why they would betray him. Wanting desperately to restore the order of things, Zeus agrees to let his estranged brother and god of the Underworld, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) launch a sinister plot to terrorize the people of Earth with demonic monsters. Angered primarily by the people of Argos, Hades offers them a deal: offer up the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) as a sacrifice or he will unleash the Kraken, a gigantic demon beast of devastating destruction, on Argos and have everything and everyone destroyed.
An ageless woman named Io (Gemma Arterton) informs the people of Argos that hope may be in their midst in the form of Perseus (Sam Worthington). Perseus was raised as the son of a simple fisherman, but it is revealed that he is the illegitimate child of Zeus, who impregnated the wife of his human enemy, Acrisius (Jason Fleyming) just to spite him. Acrisius retaliated by casting Perseus off to sea, only to be scooped up by the fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite), who claimed him for his own. The people of Argos believe the demigod nature of Perseus makes him the perfect candidate to help save their land from the angry Gods. He is then whisked away on a perilous quest in which he must defeat creatures of the underworld, take the head of the snake-like Medusa (Natalia Vodianova), and battle the colossal Kraken as it inches towards its mission of annihilation.
Clash of the Titans is, of course, a remake of the 1981 Desmond Davis cult classic that was beloved for its special effects work, supervised by the now legendary Ray Harryhausen. The film employed a skillful display of stop-motion animation, considered dazzling at the time, to bring its colorful creatures to life. The effects work seems dated compared by today's state-of-the-art standards, but it is nonetheless an example of stop-motion animation as an art form. These visuals, along with kitschy acting, makes the original a candy-coated B-movie adventure too fun to be denied.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) essentially wants to retain the original film's sense of zestful adventure while making the effects work sleeker, shinier, and more aggressive. Most effects spectacles can come across as redundant and relentless, but Clash of the Titans really knows how to pump its sequences with juices of excitement and visual creativity. Letterier films his action scenes as if they were theme-park rides and they end up containing the same sense of urgent adrenaline as a result of this. Perseus has an intense battle with lobster-like creatures that holds us in a surprisingly intense grasp. A hellish confrontation with Medusa in her alluringly deranged Underworld lair provides a dark well of thrills. The film's ultimate money shot comes with the appearance of the Kraken, the outsized sea monster from hell who is sixty stories of slimy tentacles, horrifying jaws, and scaly wrath. The design and execution of this aquatic demon is truly awesome!
With effects as grand and compelling as this popcorn ride dishes out, it can be hard for actors present in such a venture to keep their heads above water and generate interest. This cast doesn't have that problem; we're intrigued by their daring efforts to make this over-the-top story believable. Worthington makes good on the promise made in Avatar that he is a compelling and human action figure with the sort of brutish exterior that will serve him well in future action vehicles. You could call him a Russell Crowe lite. Neeson and Fiennes bring an effortless prestige to the godlike mystique their characters demand. All that's left for one to really ask for is a strong female sexpot in a suggestive toga, and Gemma Arterton supplies that with great success!
Since most of modern storytelling derived from the formalities of Greek Myth, we can see the origins of treasured movies within the film's plot. Shades of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are painfully obvious while the Perseus dilemma of being half-man/half-God is clearly an early model for Superman. These recognitions bring a surprising delight to the audience as the film unfolds. In his various writings, American mythologist Joseph Campbell often claimed that almost every mythical story can be traced back to the same structure: an ordinary man with special abilities gets a call to adventure and must endure a perilous journey to restore order against evil and prove themselves as heroes. Along the way, they will meet an older mentor, various sidekicks, and a loved one to protect. In the end, evil forces are defeated, order is restored, and the hero can live happily ever after with a loved one by their side and enlightenment in their heart. With Clash of the Titans, we can certainly recognize the formalities of this timeless structure and we're deeply pleased to see that it still holds up when done efficiently.
I could write on about how the film's plot evokes contemporary ideals regarding man vs. religion, government, or foreign invaders, but too much intelligent thought should not really be applied to Clash of the Titans. It is essentially an excuse to roll out dazzling spectacles of CGI thrills and on that level it succeeds quite deliciously. It proves that computer effects can still excite us in a B-movie, that Worthington and Arterton are game for more leading and interesting roles, and that Greek mythology will always be an inspiring source for cinematic fun.