Neither the outright disaster I expected nor a good movie, Louis Leterrier's remake of the semi-classic 1980 Desmond Davis-helmed tale is yet another example of contemporary cinema’s marvellous grasp on technical accomplishment and ever-waning capacity to tell a decent story. Presenting in essence a synopsised version of the original’s plot, culled from classical legend but festooned with new story gimmicks that serve little real function, and a lot of expensive spectacle, Leterrier drives pell-mell with barely a breath taken for characterisation, romance, or mood.
Gone is the initial annihilation of
, and Perseus’s journeying to Phoenician Joppa. The dualistic rivalry of Perseus and Calibos has been reconfigured into a bifurcated war against vengeful patriarchs (an interesting new theme in reboots, after The Wolfman), as Perseus defies both his deity sire Zeus (Liam Neeson) and his nominal Earthly father Acrisius (Jason Flemyng), who is, in this version, the stricken mortal remade as Calibos. Simultaneously, an interesting but breathlessly hurried subplot entails Hades’ (Ralph Fiennes) plotting to take over from Zeus as lord of Olympus, manipulating a crisis of faith and trust between the Gods and humankind to force Zeus into unleashing the Kraken, a monster which will unwittingly feed Hades' power. Argos
Such a boldly reconfigured mythology could have presented a wealth of possibility, especially as the film pays thematic tribute less to the zesty romance of the 1981 film than to the more cynical themes of Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963) in explicitly using mythology to portray the development of human individualism in the face of archaic power and duty. And yet the urge to render the schematic moralism in more familiar Manichean terms doesn’t seem to comprehend the ethos of Greek mythology at all. Other Gods are barely even acknowledged, both visually – they’re mostly hazily perceptible on the edges of the frame whilst Neeson and Fiennes rant and hiss – and also metaphorically. Eros and Aphrodite have no hope of making an impression on a film that been rendered as dourly macho as this one.
The metaphysics are not really much more than window dressing on a film that works best on the level of a ‘50s B-movie, full of flashy stunts and colourful, indeed wonderful, sets and costuming. That it does hang together in the end is largely due to Leterrier’s optical pyrotechnics. He and his filmmaking crew have expended such a great amount of money and craft on presenting a dazzling mythical
. Leterrier does, to his credit, attempt to construct a sense of comraderie between the pick-up band that is Perseus’s mob of helpmates, including rugged old Argos warriors Draco (Mads Mikkelsen, amazingly wasted) and Solon (Liam Cunningham), a grotesque Djinn, and Io (Gemma Arterton), a cursed immortal detailed to advise and guide Perseus, and to whom he begins to possibly, sort of, maybe, kind of, distantly feels attracted to. The film’s embarrassing wetness about any kind of man-woman thing extends to performing a wholesale trash-job on the myth’s union of Perseus and Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), the princess whose sacrifice to the Kraken Perseus is attempting to forestall. His relationship with Io is instead emphasised, and there’s a moment when they seem about to, you know, kiss, or something. Greece
Io’s presented as a more fitting mate for Perseus because she is like him no ordinary human, but also because she, unlike Andromeda must finally be, is not defined by passive willingness to be eaten. It’s hard to tell if this is a function of feminist parable or Leterrier’s unawareness of anything that doesn’t fit into his action-man sense of the universe. Arterton, a supple, unforced screen presence, does manage to inhabit Io with a quiet, unexpectedly soft and seductive kind of plucky fight and moral strength, but Leterrier’s awkward editorial grammar, cutting to random shots of her away from group shots of his boy’s club, merely confirms visually what is already apparent: she’s been tacked on. But then again, that’s also true of Calibos, who makes random appearances to cause trouble.
, as Perseus, works up a fair level of low-key soul and down-to-earth sympathy, but he’s conspired against by a dourly conceived variety of mythic hero. There’s so many competing pressures to keep his character a 10-year-old boy’s ideal of manly cool that he’s frozen almost into immobility. Worthington
Worse yet, Letterier screws up the basic motifs of the story. Perseus no longer has to tame Pegasus; the winged horse just turns up when needed. Perseus’s resistance to using Zeus’s gifts, and his sheer irritable arrogance in the face of the heavens, saps the inherent wonder and mystery. He is given a magic fold-up sword, which he avoids using as long as possible, but he has to be provided with a shield on the run, made from the armour of one of the giant scorpions he and his fellows have to kill along the way, making the later use of it to reflect Medusa’s reflection defiantly illogical. The actual confrontation with the Medusa is staged like a video game, and most of the cast of characters, whom the film has taken some trouble to set up, are casually dispatched therein. Before venturing into the Medusa’s lair, Mikkelsen mentions how his kid sister was sacrificed to the Gorgon, a detail which comes from nowhere and leads us nowhere, only serving a kind of vestigial need for motivation. Even Leterrier’s more ambitious visuals smack of the derivative: the three Stygian Witches and Charon are obviously patterned after Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy/Pan’s Labyrinth creations, and cut-and-paste flourishes from other fantasy franchises are likewise constantly in evidence.
I’ve tried not to compare too much to the 1981 film, which, although far less well-produced and polished than this work, is nonetheless much broader in scope and emotional and sensual in quality. After all these comments, this Clash of the Titans probably sounds like a worthless film, and yet it does have qualities that stand on their own. The decision to cut out some of the more twee, kiddie-crowd-pandering refrains of the older film, like Bubo the mechanical owl, helps render the tone more even, but there's not much humour to take his place: when Bubo did turn up in a rather contemptuous cameo, I actually found myself missing his clunky charm afterwards. The motif of the human race rendered as a wooden statuettes which the gods manipulate like toys is retained, but barely utilised, until one late moment when the Kraken’s marauding causes dozens to be dislodged from their nooks and fall flaming to the ground – an inspired image. The good acting by a committed, excellent, but ill-used cast does a lot to make the film more compelling than it ought to be, particularly Fiennes’ hoarsely disdainful Hades.
It’s certain Leterrier never comes close to capturing the impact of most of the model film’s enduring set-pieces, which made up in flavour and vividness what they lacked in sophistication. Nonetheless, particularly in the epic-scaled finale, in which Perseus has to avoid not only the Kraken but Hades’ harpy-like minions and religious fanatics in trying to bring the Medusa’s head to bear on the colossal monster, this does possess a visual lustre and enthusiasm of staging that’s worthy of respect. Then Leterrier despoils his achievement by having Andromeda and Perseus fall into the sea and wash up apparently miles away a couple of moments later. The cumulative result is a film that bewilders in its simultaneous gusto and shoddiness.