Friday, April 2, 2010

The Gods Must Be Cranky

Clash of the Titans

Moviegoers who skipped Greek mythology in school can get something of a crash course at their local theater this year.

Just last month, kids were treated to an adventure of modern day demigods with "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief." This week, slightly older audiences will flock to see the loud, special-effects-driven "Clash of the Titans." Even though both films take crucial liberties with the myths, they probably provide a reasonable excuse to avoid reading the texts on which they're based.

Of course, as wise adults know, the books are always better than the movies.

"Clash of the Titans" is no exception. A remake of the 1981 fantasy featuring Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier and a robot owl, director Louis Leterrier mixes and matches the most familiar Greek legends, throws in a dash of "300" and "Transformers"-esque action sequences, and combines them with a whole host of daddy issues to make a curiously mundane action flick. Subtracting the robot owl, save for a sight gag that lands with a thud, doesn't help.

It seems that in Ancient Greece, men have begun to rebel against the gods, toppling their statues and refusing to pray - in a prologue, we're reminded that it is the prayers of men that fuel the gods' immortality. Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the Underworld, convinces his brother Zeus (Liam Neeson) to unleash his wrath and tell the men and women of Argos that unless the young Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is sacrificed, he will set the beastly Kraken upon them. Zeus, quite vexed that his creation isn't responding positively to his vengeful wrath, agrees.

The only hope to stop the gods is Perseus (Sam Worthington), the half-son of Zeus. Perseus was fished out of the ocean as a child and watched his parents and sister be killed by Hades. Rejecting his position as a son of the gods, Perseus agrees to confront the Kraken, taking a motley crew of Argonauts across the countryside, where they encounter witches, scorpions, Medusa and the Kraken itself.Typing that description up, I realize there's an idea for a fun movie in there. Greek mythology is something that has not been successfully done in Hollywood, and I'd love to see a film that takes the myths and has some fun with them. Unfortunately, "Clash of the Titans" is content only to tell the standard reluctant hero story and, despite its special effects and energetic action sequences, never really feels epic or spectacular.

Leterrier, who injected life and energy into "The Incredible Hulk" after Ang Lee's turgid take on the comic book, knows how to stage an action sequence. A protracted battle with giant scorpions has a few great beats and the final battle with the Kraken is suitably well-staged. The problem is that everything feels like it's been done better before. The scorpions might be cool, but my mind kept going back to the insanity of "Starship Troopers'" giant bugs. A sequence in a volcanic temple is fun to look at, but its staging is derivative of a much better, similar sequence in "Lord of the Rings." Medusa is a largely CGI creation, a snake without any of the sensuality or horror that make her such a memorable part of Greek mythology - it's harder still to enjoy when remembering how much fun Uma Thurman had with the same role just weeks earlier in "Percy Jackson." Even the Kraken fight, while fun to watch, will leave some viewers remembering when Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightley fought the same beast in one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.

I understand that many of our big screen epics owe a debt to Greek mythology and that these creations have been around for years. But for a movie about gods and goddesses and epic battles, "Clash" feels a bit standard and tedious. The action sequences are fun, to a degree, but there is no image or scene that makes our jaws drop, or moment where it feels our heroes are in real danger. There's no sense of wonder or awe; instead, it feels like Leterrier is content to remake "300," but with giant bugs and bloodless battles. When Optimus Prime is a more awe-inspiring creation than Medusa or the Kraken, you know the material just isn't working.

Much of that comes from the few non-action interludes, which never seem to capture consistent tones. Neeson and Fiennes chew the scenery up in Mount Olympus, but the characters are so poorly conceived that it's all for naught. Hades is a sniveling conspirator, and Zeus alternates between petty anger and unexplained compassion. The two do what they can with the roles, but there's not much to them, other than to sit in the throne room, debate and pontificate. And with today's special effects, no one wants to see a god pontificate.The human characters are a hodge-podge of faceless, underwritten mercenaries. There's some minor comic relief among the Argonauts, but none of them really have a character to play. Davalos mainly has to stand around looking pretty and endangered as Andromeda. Gemma Arterton ("Quantum of Solace") does what she can with the role of Io, Perseus' protector and - in this version - love interest. However, the role is so under-cooked that she is basically reduced to randomly appearing to provide exposition at crucial moments ... then again, maybe she's just the Greek chorus.

As for Worthington, I've yet to be convinced he can carry a film. I don't blame him for the fault of "Terminator: Salvation," but neither do I commend him for the success of "Avatar." Here, he plays the largely the same gruff, reluctant warrior as in the other films, alternating between looks of annoyance and befuddlement. He has a certain quality about him that hints at a true action star waiting to come out, but he's not given that moment here. Instead, we're treated to repetitive scenes where Perseus states over and again that "I'm going to do this as a god, not a man" or "I'm going to kill the gods," never thinking that, as a god, he probably has a better shot at killing Hades. He denies his demigod-ness so many times that I wanted Ernie Hudson from "Ghostbusters" to jump in the scene and remind him, "If someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes."

The result is a film that looks good and has some solid action sequences, but never achieves the scale it's aiming for. Leterrier can't convince his actors whether they should be over the top and chewing the scenery or play it as brooding, vengeful heroes. The film is not necessarily a mess, but just another mediocre, forgettable action film. Which is a shame, given the acting talents and the materials they had to work with.

One final note: "Clash of the Titans" is being heavily marketed as a 3D movie following "Avatar's" massive success. Don't believe the hype. The film was shot in 2D and given a 3D changeover in the last few weeks. The result is an awkward use of the technology, proving that without proper composition and editing that anticipates the process, it can look cheap, like watching a film through a View-Master. Leterrier intended for the film to be seen in 2D, and composed and edited the movie that way; the conversion makes 3D more of a distraction than with films like "Avatar," which were shot and composed with the technology in mind. If you have a choice, I'd probably suggest going to see "How to Train Your Dragon" instead of "Clash of the Titans." But if you must see "Clash," I recommend saving the money and going for the standard format. It might seem a mediocre way to see the film, but then again, consider the film.
Originally published in the April 4 edition of The Source,

No comments:

Post a Comment


About Me

My photo
30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.