© 2010 Ray Wong
More of a remake of the 1981 cult classic and less of a retelling of the actual myths, Clash of the Titans takes us back to ancient Greece where the gods ruled the world and monsters were a dream for special effects artists.
As narrated by Io (Gemma Arterton), the king of gods, Zeus (Liam Neeson), is often battling with his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) who rules the underworld. Zeus believes in nurturing human love, and their prayers are what is sustaining Mt. Olympus and the gods. Meanwhile, Hades believes the best way to control the humans is through fear. When the humans defy the gods, Hades seizes the opportunity not only to prove Zeus wrong, but also to regain enough strength to unseat Zeus from his divine throne. In a show of power, Hades kills the Argonauts and vows to destroy Argos by releasing the Kraken, if they don't sacrifice the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).
Caught in the middle of this epic clash is Perseus (Sam Worthington), son of a fisherman. His family is killed by Hades and Perseus vows to avenge their deaths. Little does he know he's actually the son of Zeus, thus a demigod. Zeus appeals to Perseus to join the gods in Mt. Olympus, but Perseus's mind is set on defeating Hades and saving Argos. He and a team of Argonauts, led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), set off to find a way to kill the Kraken.
Their journey takes them to the three witches, who advice Perseus the only way to defeat the Kraken is by using Medusa's deadly stare, which turns any living thing into stone. Accompanied by Io and the men, Peseus will attempt the impossible by slaying Medusa and return to Argos before the Kraken destroys everyone.
Sam Worthington's (Avatar) star has enjoyed a phenomenal rise since Terminator Salvation and Avatar. This film is his third action flick, back to back. The great thing about Worthington is that he's a new kind of action hero -- he is not brash and obnoxious or brawny (don't get me wrong; he's rather well-built, just not a muscle-head like the Rock or Schwarzenigger). In fact, Worthington appeals to men and women alike because of his everyman, boy-next-door quality. His acting is subtle but not wooden. We can very much relate to any character he plays, whether it is a Terminator, or a human-turn-Na'vi, or a demigod.
Liam Neeson (Chloe) is majestic as Zeus. One would think that no one could match Lawrence Olivier's regal portrayal of the famed god, but Neeson does a fine job here, conveying both benevolence and a touch of sinisterness (wrath, jealousy, lust, etc.). Ralph Fiennes (The Reader) looks sickly as Hades. Here, he channels Voldemort but with a more god-like arrogance. I love the conviction he has while delivering this line: "You can't kill me -- I am a god!"
The huge supporting cast includes Jason Felmyng (Kick-Ass) as Acrisius, who was turned to the hideous Calibos because he dared to commit blasphemy against Zeus. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) is lovely and empathetic as Perseus's guardian angel, Io. Alexa Davalos (Defiance) has a surprisingly small role, considering she plays the famous Andromeda. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) is excellent as the stoic Argonaut, Draco, whose becomes Perseus's most loyal friend and companion.
Based on the 1981 film, the screenplay is written by relatively unknown writers, Travis Beacham (Dog Days of Summer), Phil Hay (The Tuxedo) and Matt Manfredi (The Tuxedo). It follows the same story arc and structure of the first film. However, they also deviate from the original by streamlining the plot to give it more cohesion. The story now has a better rhyme and reason than the original. Also, they've changed certain key plot elements and characters. For example, Calibos is now Perseus's mother's husband; Pegasus is black instead of white; and Andromeda is not a love interest for Perseus -- that is rather refreshing.
On the other hand, the dialogue is just as cheesy and some of the plot development doesn't make sense. After one of the most exciting scenes with the scorpions, there is a deus ex machina that simply doesn't work for me. Also, the plot starts to drag between epic battle scenes.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) is able to put together a production that is lavish, exciting and full of eye candy. That's what we've come to expect from big Hollywood special-effect extravaganzas, and Leterrier doesn't disappoint. Even though I knew exactly how the story was going to unfold and how it was going to end, I was mostly at the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened next, not because I didn't know, but because I wanted to see how he did it. The real strength of this film, of course, is the CGI special effects and action, and they are excellent. I wasn't expecting much (since I've seen just about everything), but I was pleasantly surprised.
The pace is brisk and often exciting. There's always something going on and something to anticipate. The production value is high and the sets and special effects are quite fantastic. They also pay homage to the original film (e.g. there's a cute, irrelevant cameo by some mechanical owl), which is a nice tribute to Ray Harryhausen. The climactic sequence is somewhat convoluted, however, and I wish they would tone it down and not go the Transformers (lots of closeups and tangled action) route.
I went to Clash of the Titans with low expectations and came away impressed. No, it's not the best movie of the year, and yes, it's something we've seen before, but they did a great job. It's immensely enjoyable and exciting to watch. I think even the Titans would approve.
Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Tine Stapelfeldt, Mads Mikkelsen
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (based on Beverley Cross's 1981 screenplay)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action, violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 7.6 out of 10