In 1981, director Desmond Davis and screenwriter Beverly Cross brought the Greek myth of Perseus to the big screen in grand fashion as Clash of the Titans. It's not a perfect telling of the myth, but its epic blend of action and adventure is quite spectacular. Sure, it looks a little dated now, but it still terribly infectious and entertaining. Now we are faced with a retelling of the story at the hands of Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) and the trio of screenwriters Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi. This time around the story gets altered a little bit more than in the previous film, but I still feel it is well within the realm of acceptance for the overall myth.
This new telling of the story begins with the fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) discovering the infant Perseus (who will come to be Sam Worthington) locked in a crate with his mother, Danae, floating in the sea. They pluck him from he sea and raise him as their own, while convinced that he was born form some great purpose that will be revealed to him in time.
Perseus's fate is revealed when he and his stepfather happen upon the soldiers of the neighboring Argos attacking a village and toppling a gigantic statue honoring Zeus. This attack leaves Perseus orphaned and picked up by the Argos soldiers. Meanwhile, the gods are none too happy with what is transpiring below. Zeus (Liam Neeson), brother Poseidon, and banished brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) plot a way to punish the humans. You see, in addition to the toppling of the statue the people are becoming considerably bolder in their defiance of the gods and their desire to be master of their domain.
These events point Perseus towards his fate. The bastard son of Zeus is apparently destined to save humanity from the wrath of the gods. This is that special purpose his adoptive father told him about. The young Perseus sets out on a quest that never feels fully defined or explained. I understand what he is meant to do, but the way it is revealed is lacking, seemingly more focused on getting us to the next effects sequence at the expense of good storytelling.
Perseus sets out to fight against gods who act like petulant children all in the service of a film that has surprisingly little plot. For as much story as there seems to be, you would think the movie would be better. Seriously, you see the gods stomp around and try to punish humans while Perseus and an intrepid band of soldiers wander around trying to find a way to repel their attacks. Perseus also has the secondary goal of avenging the murder of his adoptive family.
As I sat there watching the film unfold, I couldn't say it was terrible. There is a certain level of skill employed in the creation of the film. There is plenty of action and the pace is generally quite good. The problem is that I didn't care. I did not see any reason to care. The screenplay lacked heart and the performances did nothing to bring any heart to the characters. With this being true, my mind wandered a little away from the story to a couple of slightly related ideas. I felt it was safe to do so as it was clear early on that the story was not going to need my complete attention. I just let the action carry me through, and it became more of a sword-swinging poem than a traditional narrative.
One of my thoughts concerned the look of the film. I felt it looked cheap when there was no real need for it. The Kraken sequence was quite spectacular but that was about it. It reportedly had a $125 million budget — where did it go? This led to the idea that perhaps the cheap look of much of the production was on purpose. Was it done as an homage to the dated look of the 1981 film? I cannot truly believe that is the case, but it is an idea. This led to thoughts of Bubo, the mechanical owl from the prior film. He has a cameo, but it feels more like an afterthought so they can say he is in the film. I felt it was a little backhand swipe and while that may not be the case, it just felt unnecessary.
My wandering mind turned away from the effects, although I must admit to being mesmerized by the giant scorpions (they are rather goofy). The next thing that popped into my mind was the curious timing of the release. I understand that it was pushed back a week when the suits decided to ride Avatar's 3D coattails and bleed a few extra bucks from the public; that aside, the release lines up with Good Friday and Easter.
What is so interesting about that? Think about it. Here you have a film about the son of a god who is destined to free humanity and possibly having to sacrifice himself in that endeavor released on the weekend that mourns the crucifixion of the Son of God and celebrates His Resurrection, thus freeing humanity from the shackles of death and reopening the gates of Heaven. It is an interesting story to be telling this particular weekend. I do not think there is really anything behind besides coincidence and a connection made in my wandering mind. Still, interesting.
Overall, this was a rather dull film. I am glad I did not see it in 3D, a decision made easy by the fact it was never intended for such a release in the first place. It is a shame — I think Louis Leterrier is a good action director, having helmed Danny the Dog (aka Unleashed) and Transporter 2. I do not think it's his fault the film fails. The action is competently directed and the pace is good. Issues lie more with the heartless screenplay and the lackluster performances by most of the cast. I am not ready to write off Sam Worthington yet, but I am waiting to see him truly break out with something. Here he is rather bland and unconvincing. Quite frankly, the only cast member I was taken with was Gemma Arterton as Io. I did not realize until later that I had seen her before. In her role here I found her quite striking as the woman watching over Perseus.
Bottom line. I say skip this one and re-watch the original. Yes, the original is dated and perhaps a little corny, but it is much more entertaining than this one. It is even a little endearing. This new take is just dull and lifeless despite the action thrown at the screen.