Over the weekend, my esteemed colleague Julia Rhodes reviewed Clash of the Titans, the latest big budget and (kind of) 3-D blockbuster release starring Avatar’s Sam Worthington. Julia gave this remake 1 1/2 stars. After seeing the film yesterday evening I felt it necessary to contribute my own critical take on the film. Normally, Julia and I have eerily similar opinions about the quality of the films we review. But not this time. 1 1/2 stars, Julia? You are far, far too kind. In fact, I think there’s a decent argument that Clash of the Titans may be one of the worst movies ever made.
I consider myself a somewhat reasonable film critic. I have even been accused of unrealistic optimism in my attempts to find the good in every film I watch. (Hell, I actually admire The Room for its sincerity. But that’s another blog entry for another time… later this week, actually.) It would be fair to say that although I had heard negative criticisms about Clash of the Titans, or at least the shoddy 3-D effects, I was prepared to give this particular movie a fair shake.
I barely recall the original Clash of the Titans, so the remake had few expectations to live up to. Director Louis Leterrier is, as near as I can tell, one of the strongest action directors to emerge from the past decade, having directed the genuinely exceptional Unleashed, the misunderstood and ridiculous Transporter 2 and the surprisingly entertaining Incredible Hulk. And of course the cast is dynamite: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Mads Mikkelsen have all earned my respect in previous films, and although Sam Worthington underwhelmed in his other two blockbusters he did exude an unmistakable charm in the very strong Australian thriller Rogue. So I was open to the possibility that Clash of the Titans might be an entertaining special effects-driven thrill ride, at the very least. Instead, the film inspired my following Twitter comment: “My Three Word Review of Clash of the Titans: Just. F***ing. Awful.”
So what went wrong with this film? I’m afraid I’m going to need a lot more than three words.
Clash of the Titans centers around a “simple” conceit: God(s) created Man, but in order to survive these Gods must feed (somehow) off of the prayers of Man. It’s a concept that has been bandied about in religious and mythology-laden fantasy stories for a while now, but as a plot device in Clash of the Titans this concept is nothing short of the ridiculous. The story is set in motion when the people of Argos decide that they will no longer pray to the Gods in order to weaken them and, presumably, end their reign. Genuinely threatened, the Gods are forced into action. Hades (Ralph Fiennes) presents during what appears to be the Gods’ bi-weekly family meeting the following proposition: Force the King and Queen of Argos to sacrifice their beloved daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the Gods – thus feeding the Gods both devotion and a delicious princess – or suffer the wrath of the Kraken, an enormous monster so powerful that it killed the Titans (before the events of this film, of course, which is to say that there isn’t a single Titan present in Clash of the Titans). The resulting devastation would then terrify the rest of Mankind into praying to the Gods on a regular basis.
And this… is stupid.
Again, the concept of Gods needing the prayers of Man – or at least their faith – in order to remain Gods is hardly new and not intrinsically problematic from a mythological perspective. The real problem here is as follows: Who in Zeus’s name told Mankind about it? You don’t see Superman sending out press releases about Kryptonite very often. It’s absurd. And even if, out of some bizarre and culturally archaic sense of “fair play” one or more of the Gods let this tidbit slip out, then why aren’t the Gods responding to everybody’s prayers? In Clash of the Titans, Gods and Men are presented in a symbiotic relationship, and the plot centers around each of member of this relationship neglecting their responsibilities to the detriment of all, with absolutely no motivation for doing so.
For the record, these are also Greek gods who, unlike “modern” God(s), have an active role in daily life on Earth. Since Christian God (for example) doesn’t actually show up in person very often, there is a complicated belief system that explains his apparent absence during a crisis: “God works in mysterious ways,” etc. The result is that the belief in a “modern” deity is somewhat subjective, and regardless of where you stand on a specific religion it often falls to “Faith” to explain one’s devotion to a specific deity. In contrast, an early scene in Clash of the Titans shows Mankind toppling an enormous statue of Zeus in defiance, and Hades immediately shows up in person with an army of flying demons to exact revenge. In the world of Clash of the Titans, you don’t have to take the existence of God(s) on faith, so why would anybody EVER intentionally piss them off?
I suppose it could be argued that the entire scenario was orchestrated by Hades, who is presented in the film as an antagonist of sorts. We’ll get to his machinations in a bit along with the rest of the major spoilers. For now let’s take a break from the conceptual nightmare Clash of the Titans presents us and instead focus on the characters, or lack thereof, it presents to us instead. Sam Worthington stars as Perseus, and has an interesting take on the character as a black hole of charisma. Perseus, though fathered by Zeus (Liam Neeson), was raised by Spyros, a human fisherman played by Pete Postlethwaite, who looks so thin and sickly that everyone I saw the film with was sincerely concerned for the actor’s well-being. (If it was an elaborate special effect then it was an awful one, since the result was anything but immersive, and if it was not then his health should have been taken into greater consideration.)
Spyros questions the Gods – specifically because they fail to answer so many of his prayers (see the preceding five paragraphs) – so when he dies in a God-related incident Perseus latches onto his adopted father’s ethos as gospel and spends the rest of the film in defiance of the Gods, even after learning he himself is a Demigod in one of the stupidest plot points ever filmed outside of the new Star Wars trilogy. You see, when Hades presents the King of Argos with his options (i.e. sacrifice his daughter, or sacrifice his daughter and everyone else too), he also decides to point out in public that Perseus is the son of a God, which makes Hades a complete and utter moron. If only a Demigod like Perseus is capable of defeating the Kraken and saving Argos, and nobody – not even Perseus – knew there was a Demigod in Argos, then it contradicts every Machiavellian machination Hades has been laying since the dawn of creation to point a big Godly finger at Perseus saying (paraphrased), “Incidentally, this is the only guy that can foil all of my plans.” In theory, Io (Gemma Arterton), who is immortal and knew Perseus was a Demigod, might have brought it up at some point but she certainly hadn’t done so yet and thus Hades acted entirely against his own interests in a shameless and completely unmotivated attempt to jumpstart the plot.
That plot takes the form of a “Hero’s Quest” in which Perseus and a small unit of soldiers (and two comic relief guys) walk to a distant mountain to ask some evil witches for advice on how to kill the Kraken, which attacks in 10 days. Here’s a question nobody asks: If they only have 10 days to reach this mountain, then go and do whatever the witches say is necessary to defeat the Kraken, and then return to Argos, why in any God’s name would they walk? Had horses not been invented yet? Doubtful, since when Perseus sees his first Pegasus, Io points out that no human being has ever ridden one, implying that riding animals is a common enough occurrence for somebody to have tried it before. And since the King himself is bankrolling this extremely important mission you’d think he wouldn’t have cheaped out on the transportation.
Along the way, our “heroes” are confronted with an episodic series of action sequences with no relation to each other. Perseus, who spends most of the journey whining about refusing to use any of his Godlike powers to defeat a God (principles which every other character finds highly impractical to the point of, once again, idiocy), is attacked by underappreciated character actor Jason Flemyng, who inexplicably plays a supernatural assassin and the guy whose wife Zeus raped to produce Perseus in the first place. At first I assumed that Clash of the Titans would “reveal” that he was the same man, perhaps cursed by the Gods to do their dirty work for trying to kill Zeus’s son, but instead the dual casting is never mentioned and, in fact, Flemyng is credited as playing two distinct characters in the credits. A valuable opportunity for pathos and even narrative closure is thus abandoned for no discernible reason whatsoever.
Speaking of “no discernable reason whatsoever,” Jason Flemyng’s blood appears to spontaneously generate giant scorpions, which succeed in killing far more of Perseus’s men that Flemyng ever does, raising the question of why any God/”Scorpion Creating Guy” who legitimately wanted Perseus dead wouldn’t have opened with the scorpions instead. Then a group of Jinn show up and Deus Ex Machina a half dozen incidental plot points to death (like that transportation they so desperately needed in the first place). These Jinn serve no other purpose whatsoever to the narrative. One of these Jinn joins Perseus’s party, but at no point actually conveys anything resembling a personality, ruining an obvious (though nevertheless significant) opportunity for drama as our heroes are forced to make a friend out of a natural enemy. The fact that the filmmakers literally demonize the Jinn, the only characters in Clash of the Titans who dress in Middle-Eastern garb, is not unlike Pandora’s Box: Important to point out but probably best left unexamined.
In fact, none of the characters make much of an impact. Remember the characters? Like the filmmakers I forgot all about them for a while and have decided to brisk through their personalities near the end as an afterthought. Mads Mikkelsen probably accrues the most rooting interest as the character who, like the audience, doesn’t like Perseus very much. Towards the end of the film he gets to quickly exposit that someone he loved died, and that is all. Every other human character is such a minor consideration that you’re not even sure who most of them are when they die.
Io has the time-honored “curse” of immortality, and it’s implied that she wants Perseus to succeed in defeating the Gods so she can die once and for all. (That’s a plot point I’ve never really bought, but that’s a conversation for another time.) She also has a love subplot with Perseus that gets tacked on in one of the dumbest scenes in the film (note the clarifier “one of”). Shortly before the Medusa sequence Io takes Perseus aside to teach him how to fight the Medusa so he won’t be killed. This might make sense in the abstract, but in context is completely nonsensical. First, why only teach Perseus how to survive the Medusa fight if he’s going in with an entire squad of soldiers? This is information that everybody could have found useful. Secondly, how the Hades did Io even figure out how to fight the Medusa in the first place, when she herself tells Perseus that no woman is allowed inside Medusa’s temple and no man has ever been inside and lived? She has absolutely no way of knowing what Medusa’s fighting tactics are, and if she really knew this much about the Medusa then why didn’t she tell Perseus about her in the first place, rather than wasting everybody’s time by making them walk to Witch Mountain to get the information secondhand? And the sudden arrival of a sexual attraction at the end of this training sequence left the audience – even those who actually seemed mildly involved – howling with laughter.
And now we enter a discussion of the ending of Clash of the Titans. If you don’t wish the end of the film ruined I will take this opportunity to say the following: A) You already know how this film ends, and B) The entire purpose of this article is to explain why you should never see this film, so ruining the ending will hardly be detrimental to your viewing experience (which you won’t enjoy anyway). Spoiler Warning, I suppose, but I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.
At the end of Clash of the Titans, the 10 days are up and Hades tells Zeus that it’s time to unleash the Kraken. At this point Zeus tells all the other Gods to leave him alone with Hades, implying that he’s about to do something that is either classified or at least frowned upon by everyone else in the room. Instead, he waits for everyone to leave and then orders Hades to unleash the Kraken, which is what every other God expected him to do anyway. The Kraken attacks and Hades reveals that while Zeus and the other Gods feed off of mankind’s prayers, Hades only feeds off of their fear, so releasing the Kraken just makes Zeus weaker and Hades more powerful. Which, again, is stupid. What if the people of Argos really had sacrificed the princess before the arbitrary deadline? His entire plan would have collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. For that matter, if releasing the Kraken was entirely in Hades’ best interests, why would he warn Mankind about it and give them time to find a suitable defense? Why not just release the Kraken at any old time to destroy Argos? I assure you, they would have been equally afraid.
Perseus does defeat the Kraken, of course, which raises another perplexing issue: By defeating the Kraken, Perseus essentially proved to the people of Argos, and by extension Mankind, that Gods could be defeated by mortals (or at least Demigods), which would certainly diminish Mankind’s faith in the Gods. The problems of Man are temporarily allayed, but the problems of the Gods are left completely unresolved. If anything, the Gods should have just sent another disaster – preferably something unkillable, like a volcano or a tidal wave – to destroy the city and make their point. Instead, Zeus shows up to Perseus and tries to play the whole thing off like it was his plan all along. What exactly was your plan, Zeus? To starve the Gods to death?
To cap it all off Zeus tries to prove that he’s a nice guy by bringing Io back from the dead as a last minute happy ending for Perseus, who may have defeated the Kraken but achieved nothing resembling a personal victory. This, of course, is stupid, since all Io wanted was for her immortality to end. So in rewarding Perseus he punishes Io. The sound falls out and the camera helicopters away as soon as she’s revived, no doubt to mask the sounds of Io’s never ending screams of profanity.
End Spoilers, I suppose.
So is Clash of the Titans officially one of “The Worst Movies of All Time?” It’s too soon to tell, but it’s certainly one of the sloppiest and most poorly conceived films in recent memory, alongside such abominations as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Spirit and Avatar (at least Sam Worthington managed to ride a flying fictional beast without raping it this time). Most of the reviews I’ve seen for Clash of the Titans advise audiences to simply “Avoid seeing it 3-D,” and while that’s a fair point I think these people missed the bigger picture, possibly because they were too distracted by those ridiculous 3-D effects (distraction being just about the only thing 3-D is good for, but again, that’s a matter for another time). The important thing is to avoid seeing Clash of the Titans altogether. The only thing epic about this movie is its many, many failures.
All pictures are Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures