Yesterday, I saw the new Clash of the Titans with my best friend while we were waiting for the new battery to be installed in her car. Since it was the 10:30 AM showing, tickets were only $6. The reason I mention this as significant is because I’m incredibly glad I didn’t waste any more of my money on it than that. It’s something of a puzzle to me that Ebert gave this movie three stars, while in comparison he gave Michael Bay’s love letter to running away from explosions in slow motion (aka Transformers 2) only one star. I honestly feel the two movies are about equal when it comes to story quality, even if Transformers 2 did fall behind in the Shiny Liam Neeson With a Giant Beard department.
Needless to say, this movie was not what I had desperately hoped it would be – it was manifestly not a faithful remake of the old Clash of the Titans, just with better special effects. The story was changed in some fundamental ways, and as you can probably tell, I don’t think that it was the better for it. Below is my synposis of the new plot:
For no apparent reason, a bunch of Greeks have decided that they don’t like the gods any more. They never bother to tell us why. King I-Can’t-Be-Bothered-To-Remember-His-Name lays siege to Olympus. Zeus retaliates, as one might expect when the mighty God of Thunder gets a poke in the eye from a mortal, by having sex with the King’s wife. No, really. And then when the King gets angry and throws her in to the sea because she’s pregnant, Zeus finally gets around to zapping the guy with lightning. Which doesn’t actually kill him, for some reason. Instead it just sort of melts half his face, at which point the King decides to go live in the sewers and starts calling himself Calebos. I suppose we should feel lucky he didn’t build a pipe organ and start composing opera. At some point later, by the way, Hades pops up to see Calebos and infuses him with super powers via the Beam of Fiery Stenchy Breath and reveals that this is all just so he (Hades) can try to screw over Zeus.
A fisherman finds baby Perseus and raises him, which mostly involves complaining about how much the gods suck. They’re sailing around one day and come across a super awesome statue of Zeus overlooking the sea, just in time to see a bunch of soldiers from Argos knock it over in to the water. For no apparent reason Hades shows up, kills all the soldiers, and then blows up the fishing boat for good measure, just because he’s in a bad mood. This causes Perseus to spend the rest of the movie brooding and snarling about how a god killed his family, so all the gods can suck it as far as he’s concerned. I’m guessing one of the abilities of being a demigod is to be incredibly unimpressed when confronted by an actual god. And also to be the only man in Argos with a crew cut as opposed to an Ancient Greek Mullet, but that’s a different topic.
Hades, who needs both hair plugs and some Vick’s Vapor Rub, goes to Olympus and tells Shiny Liam Neeson that the humans are saying mean things about the gods, and that Hades would be happy to scare the hell out of them so they start praying properly again. All of the other gods stand around and look shiny and sound vaguely British, but contribute nothing of value to the plot. Zeus sends Hades off to do whatever he wants, then hangs out with his bald eagle, because apparently Olympus is in the western United States. Just so you know.
A few remaining soldiers, all of them wearing breastplates with the most stupid fake musculature EVER, find Perseus and take him back to Argos, where people are partying because the gods can suck it. Or something. Cassiopaea starts up about how her daughter is hotter than all the gods, even after Andromeda tells her to knock it off, since it’s kind of embarrassing. Hades manifests as a giant Hell Blender and grinds up all the soldiers, then kills Cassiopaea and tells the few people left alive that he’s going to sic the Kraken on them if they don’t sacrifice Andromeda to it in ten days.
Perseus, in keeping with the acting abilities of Sam Worthington, says some growly stuff about how much the gods suck but woodenly insists that he can’t do anything about it, and thus gets thrown in jail, because for no discernible reason everyone suddenly knows that he’s Zeus’ kid. A hot chick with nice hair shows up and introduces herself as Io and kind of explains things to him but not really.
Perseus suddenly decides that he’s going to try to help out Argos. I’m guessing it’s because he thinks the gods suck, but honestly I couldn’t tell you. He gets some ridiculous looking armor of his own and sets out with some soldiers and a couple of comic relief characters. There is dialog and some action and a half-naked holy man and frankly none of it makes sense. Perseus does some typical male bonding stuff with the soldiers, so it becomes apparent that they are all destined to die in ways that will make him strike poses both stoic and steely-eyed. The soldier in charge (who has both a mullet and facial scars) tries to point out to Perseus that he’s got some better-than-human abilities because he’s a demigod. Perseus insists that he hates gods, doesn’t want to be like them, and is going to be just a man, thank you very much. Io is also following along this entire time, looking like she’s just stepped out of a salon.
At some point during this testosterone fest, there’s a scene where Hades lets Zeus know that Perseus is around. This is apparently a surprise to Zeus, which was something of a surprise to me. And Zeus’ reaction is then to be butt-hurt, because Perseus never sent him a card on father’s day. Be that as it may, Zeus sends a magical sword to Perseus – which Perseus immediately refuses to use because HAVE I MENTIONED I HATE GODS AND AM BITTER? – and shows off his pegasus herd.
Rather than let us enjoy the pretty horsies, Calebos pops up out of nowhere and starts killing the soldiers. There’s some very confused fighting, and then Calebos gets his hand cut off. His blood turns in to the giant scorpions, which then leads to a surprisingly boring fight scene where the soldiers try to kill the computer generated scorpions. The only enjoyable part of the fight is when Io saves Perseus, then gets pitched down a hill for her trouble and we find out that her hair actually isn’t a solid block and that she can look ever so slightly grimy. The fight sequence ends with the brave soldiers surrounded by giant scorpions, and it looks vaguely worrying.
And then a Djinn shows up. No, you didn’t misread that. Apparently this desert belongs to the Djinn, and in movie geography ancient Greece is located next door to ancient Persia. The Djinn are all magical and tame the scorpions. Or something. And apparently decide that they like Perseus, because even Djinn think that the gods suck. Overnight, they build some lovely houses on top of the scorpions, and they all set off together across what appears to be the Sahara, to get to the mountains where the witches live. The grizzled old soldier at this point tells Perseus to stop being a petulant douchebag and actually try to reach his demi-god potential, because by not doing so he’s been letting the nameless and uninteresting soldiers get picked off like flies. As you might suspect, Perseus’ reaction to this is to scowl mightily and be even more petulant and douchey.
The scene with the witches actually runs about like the original movie, except the witches are much creepier looking. At the end, they make a big prophecy about how Perseus is Going To Die, which considering that he’s not actually immortal probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Apparently this is a dealbreaker for all but one of the Djinn, though, and they run off with their scorpions. Perseus takes a little walk by himself, meets up with Zeus and is petulant at him, then Zeus gives him a coin for the ferryman. Which is probably the most fatherly thing Zeus has ever done; I certainly remember my days in college (the first time around) when I looked pathetic enough that my parents couldn’t resist slipping me twenties before I headed back to my dorm.
So the merry little band goes to the river Styx, and the Djinn is the only one smart enough to figure out how to call for Charon, I suppose so that the character has something to do since it’s incapable of engaging in even the meaningless dialog (due to a language barrier) that’s the halmark of this movie. Everyone hangs out on the boat, and Perseus and Io (who is once again perfectly groomed) have a moment so devoid of chemistry that I was forced to wonder if it had been written by Stephanie Meyer. They all get to Medusa’s lair; Io stays outside and lets all the boys go merrily to their deaths.
Now, I will say that I liked the Medusa’s lair sequence. I think they did a good job with Medusa, and I really liked all the eerie giggling that she did. Medusa also proceeds to kill everyone but Perseus, and I was hard-pressed to care. Perseus chops off her head, and goes outside to Io, who then gets stabbed through the back by Calebos. At this point, I was forced to conclude that Calebos’ Hades-derived super power is randomly popping up whenever the script calls for yet another fight sequence. Io’s stabbing is apparently all the motivation Perseus needs to stop being a childish about being a demigod; he grabs the until now ignored magic sword and slices the crap out of Calebos. The magical sword then sucks all the evil out of Calebos, briefly transforming him back in to King Whatever-His-Name-Was, who dies after telling Perseus “Don’t become like them.”
Uh… whatever, jerk who just stabbed the well-groomed lady.
Perseus and Io have another moment, which is – though this should be impossible according to the laws of physics – even more devoid of chemistry than the last. The eclipse starts up, then Io turns in to pretty lights and disappears. And Pegasus, knowing just when a deus ex machina is called for, shows up to carry Perseus back to Argos, covering the distance that apparently took 10 days to travel in something like five minutes. That’s what I call horsepower. (Har har.)
Oh, and at some point, Shiny Liam Neeson says, “Release the Kraken!” This, and the super pretty magical flying horsies, were worth the six bucks I shelled out to see them.
Meanwhile, back in Argos, the Kraken shows up. Andromeda gets hung by her wrists from some sort of wooden sacrificial structure and looks vaguely annoyed by the inconvenience, but otherwise unbothered. In a long and incredibly confusing sequence that lacks any sort of tension, Perseus does a lot of flying around on Pegasus, chasing after a little Hades minion that grabbed Medusa’s head when I blinked. He gets the head back, the Kraken gets turned in to stone, and then Andromeda gets dropped in the ocean. Hades shows up, Perseus whips out the magical sword, it gets zotted by lightning, and the uses it to knock Hades back in to the underworld.
Then he gets around to jumping in to the water and rescuing Andromeda, who has very impressive lung capacity. Andromeda asks Perseus to be king of Argos. Perseus says no, and then rides off on Pegasus, who takes him back to where Hades killed Perseus’ family. Zeus shows up, and there’s some very nonsensical dialog about how people are going to worship Perseus like a god, and Perseus should try to treat them better than the gods apparently did. Then Io appears, and I suppose it’s happily every after, but I had long since stopped caring.
…and that’s it. Maybe it was because I was extremely hungry by the end of the movie, but I found the climactic action sequence both confusing and boring. Throughout the entire movie, very little of what the characters did made any sense. None of the occasional quasi-philosophical things that the characters said about the relationship between men and gods made any sense. The relationship between Zeus and Hades was reduced to a lame charicature of what we saw in the Disney movie Hercules, which already stank of a Christian-style God versus Devil conflict tarted up with a thin veneer of Greek culture rather than anything representative of the actual mythology. Perseus had no character arc beyond scowling a lot and jumping around in a teeny leather skirt; in the end, we’re left to wonder if he was supposed to accept or reject his partially divine heritage, and if we can really be bothered to give a shit about it in the first place.
Give me the old Clash of the Titans any day, thanks. Maybe the special effects were crap, but at least I could buy Perseus going through all the dirt and mess because he wanted to get in to Andromeda’s pants. Making it in to a revenge fantasy where Perseus really just wants to stick it to the gods might make it more butch than the old movie, but I find CG scorpions and a bombastic theatrical score a poor substitute for the old exuberance.