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Friday, April 2, 2010

Clash of the Titans (***)



"Fuck you, gods! Fuck you!" is the moral of the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans.  Everyone in this re-imagining's version of Ancient Greece must be a Cylon because all of these Greeks positively hate the gods. Anti-gods dialogue includes, "If you see a god, spit in his face!" and "Every step we take is an insult to the gods." "Good!" In this mythical, CGI-enhanced (3D if you wanted to pay more for less - I chose to see it in glorious 2D) vision of Ancient Greece, god-hating is the main sport of their Olympic games.

Sam Worthington, ex-Terminator and N'avi sympathizer, stars as Perseus, the demi-god son of Zeus (Liam Neeson, clad in glowing armor for some reason). And he ain't happy about who his daddy is. Worthington's Perseus exists for one reason - to tell the gods to go fuck themselves and make them if it comes down to it. A calculated 180 degree turnabout from the starry-eyed Ken doll version of Perseus Harry Hamlin played in the 1981 Clash of the Titans, Worthington plays Perseus as a snarling, blazing-eyed action hero; modulating the levels of how pissed off he is by how often monsters and gods attack him.

This new Perseus ferociously zags where Hamlin's zigged: Hamlin was keen on being Zeus' son, gladly accepted any and all toys and weapons the gods favored him with (Bubo the robot owl from the original Clash makes a cameo and is quickly discarded), and was all about trying to be a hero worthy of the myths to be told about him. Worthington loudly and stridently declares over and over he wants nothing to do with being a god, rejects his divine heritage outright, and even refuses to wield the nifty, shape-changing glowing power sword Zeus drops off to him.

The biggest difference between the Perseii is that Hamlin did it all for the love of a woman, the celestially beautiful Andromeda (Judi Bowker). Worthington is all about revenge. See, it was a god, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, occasionally channeling a little bit of Lord Voldemort), who killed his adoptive family, including his Pa Kent played by Pete Postlethwaite, a humble fisherman who sure hated the gods and passed on his anti-god venom to Perseus.

The 1981 Clash celebrated the golden heroism of Perseus and his literally star-crossed love story with Andromeda. Worthington doesn't give a damn about the new Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).  Sure, he saves her from the Kraken, but Worthington only has eyes for Io (former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton). Can't blame him there. Io is clearly the only babe this demi-god wants to get horizontally Greco-Roman with; when poor Andromeda offers Perseus her hand in marriage and to be king of her city, he shoots her down cold. But... but... didn't Perseus read the Greek myths?  They're supposed to end up together.  Fuck the gods, and fuck the myths too, says the movie.

In this Clash's mythology, the gods defeated the Titans because Hades created the Kraken out of his own flesh. The gods then created man to worship them, but countless years of dicking humans around - and in the male gods' cases, dicking the women around - lead the humans to declare war on the gods. Perseus was created in a riff right out of the King Arthur legend, where Zeus impregnated the wife of the Greek king Acrisius while disguised as him. In his rage, Acrisius puts his wife and newborn son to death (I guess Acrisius stayed enraged for 9 whole months, waiting until Perseus was born before he called for the execution), but Perseus is saved via his demi-godliness. (For some reason, the brunette actress playing Perseus' dead mother in the coffin sealed in with baby Perseus is a completely different actress from the blonde Zeus impregnates in the flashbacks.)

Re-imagining of the mythology aside, Clash of the Titans does check off the greatest hits moments of its predecessor. When the city of Argos is threatened by destruction at the hands of the Kraken, Perseus must travel to the Stygian Witches to seek their counsel in how to kill the Kraken. They in turn steer him towards Medusa, whose gaze can turn the Kraken to stone. The Witches are an amusing throwback right out of the original Clash (complete with borrowed dialogue: "A Titan against a Titan!")  What doesn't make sense is how the movie makes a big point of how Madusa's gaze can only turn men to stone, not women and not inhumans, and yet Madusa can turn the Kraken to stone. (As in the original, the people of Argos - who never seemed to consider evacuating the city as an option when threatened with a Kraken attack - lucked out when the Kraken crumbles after its turned to stone. They probably wouldn't have enjoyed a thousand foot tall Kraken statue looming over their city.)

The new Clash also works in Pegasus, now a winged black stallion that Kate on Lost would go ga-ga for, and Perseus' deformed monster arch enemy from the first Clash, Calibos.  This time around Calibos is not the son of a goddess nor the former lover of Andromeda, but the former King Acrisius himself, who was deformed by Zeus' thunderbolt. Though the audience gets the full backstory on who and what Calibos is, strangely, Perseus does not.  He has no idea who this monster is who attacks him, stalks him, and attacks him again, or why he's doing so.  But then, this furious Perseus is too busy scowling, fighting, and killing to bother asking questions.

In a movie full of strange sights, the strangest has to be our heroes riding giant scorpions across the desert. (Why is there a sand-dune desert on the way to the Stygian Witches' lair, by the way? Where were these Greeks going, Tunesia? The movie established a 10 day time limit to save Andromeda - does it only take four days to travel from Greece to Africa via giant scorpion?)  Among Perseus' new sidekicks, mostly interchangable Greek warriors including another Bond veteran Mads Mikkelsen (bloody teared Le Chiffre in Casino Royale), was a desert dwelling mystical monster who looked a lot like a Prawn from District 9. But like the Prawn from District 9, this thing turned out to be a pretty cool cat for a hideous man-monster.

I found the gods themselves to be pretty disappointing. Fiennes' Hades was the big bad, looking to oust Zeus from his throne, but Neeson played a wussy, impotent Zeus, who liked to dress himself up in rags and hang out with Perseus, but otherwise refused to intervene for some reason. Why the Olympian Pantheon were all decked out in shimmering medieval-looking armor, I can't say.  Danny Huston plays Poseidon, who was the master of the Kraken in the original Clash, but it's a glorified cameo. And I hear Isabella Miko played Artemis, but you'd never know it if you watched the movie. She's hardly even in focus in the background of the gods' scenes.

Clash of the Titans is a grim, dour movie, and proud of it. As a frenzied action movie monster spectacle, which seems to be its primary intent, Clash of the Titans delivers when it must. The sequence in Madusa's lair where Perseus battles and decapitates (the surprisingly hot in her re-designed face) Madusa was satisfying, and the all-new, bigger, badder Kraken is a gruesomely impressive sight. And yet the Kraken's unleashed fury pales in comparison to Perseus'.  In this aggressive, violent new Clash of the Titans, immortality belongs to whoever is angriest, and no one - man or god - is angrier than Perseus.