In Theaters: Clash of the Titans
In its attempt to upgrade a classic with kick-ass effects, Louis Leterrier's noisy, manic and not much fun at all Clash of the Titans saps much of the spirit of the 1981 cult epic. Leterrier countered fanboy skepticism with the prospect of a 3-D and CGI-enhanced version of the fantastical Greek myth that powered the original. A few scenes in an even better defense suggests itself: the sight of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes plotting to make the plebes worship them again, to restore proper order between gods and mere mortals. Now you're talking, I thought; a modern critique of the socialization of fame could only have been stronger if they'd populated Argos exclusively with reality stars. Alas, the effects can't quite cut through the hazy narrative and wretched dialogue, and when it comes to subtext my imagination seemed to have outpaced that of the filmmakers by the 15-minute mark.
Screenwriters Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have fashioned a kind of crazy quilt from the story used in the original film -- the myth of Greek demi-god Perseus, here played by Sam Worthington, the Australian actor and Avatar hero. Seemingly orphaned at birth, Perseus is raised at sea by the fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) who found him floating in a coffin with his dead mother. They happen upon Argos just as its residents, having decided they are equally awesome, declare war against the gods. Their hubris cues the arrival of Hades, god of the underworld, and Ralph Fiennes, emerging from a ball of bat fury in red eyeliner and a nasty weave, gets an even better reveal than he enjoyed in The Hurt Locker. It's an enjoyment that doesn't last long, however: Both he and Neeson, who plays his brother, Zeus (a big hippie bathed in a Barbara Walters sheen and wearing a blinding breastplate), are stuck in the tonal limbo that mars much of the film.
A recent veteran of the James Cameron gauntlet of iffy dialogue, it is to Worthington's credit that he makes lines like, "Is it true? Am I the son of Zeus?" resonate with something other than pure hilarity. In fact he is the son of Zeus, the product of a little late-night prank the god decided to play on King Acrisius (Jason Flemyng), who condemned his wife and her newborn to die at sea. With his adoptive family killed in the battle they encountered at Argos, Perseus wanders into the armyand winds up leading a charge against Hades and "the kraken," an inconceivable embodiment of unseeing, unfeeling evil that in fact looks a lot like a waterproof reject from The War of the Worlds.
The plot piles on so many grudge matches and cross purposes that almost as soon as Perseus takes on the challenge (ostensibly to save the local Princess, Andromeda, from sacrifice, and to avenge his family) we forget where or why he is going. The filmmakers have installed a little Tinkerbell -- a weird, ageless stalker with halogen skin named Io (Gemma Arterton) -- to alleviate this confusion, and she literally trails Perseus and his crew (including the formidable Mads Mikkelsen) around, stepping forward to offer crucial bits of exposition when even the characters can't keep a grip on what's happening. Not only is she a poor substitute for the female characters (including Hera, Athena, Thetis, and freaking Aphrodite) and the trusty mechanical owl dropped from the original, Arterton also suffers most cruelly from the insipid writing. Although "You're not just part man, part god -- you're the best of both," was the line that floored the audience I was with, I was more taken with the more soulful, "Ease your storm." Surely one to remember the next time I'm pinned to the floor by a young demigod and flushed with creepy sexual tension.
Even the host of cheerfully cheesy effects can't remedy Titans' erring on the wrong side of such lines (the use of 3-D seems almost negligible). If anything the film is a reminder that cult status is bestowed, and almost never successfully sought: Leterrier seemed to want to split the difference, offering a crunching, often incoherent action picture (and what does it say that the retro version had more powerful women; even Medusa is a CGI creation) with an homage to the earnest, full-on fromage of the original. While not a total disaster, the result is the worst thing escapist fare can be: kind of a bore.