It has been a couple of years since the last proper swords-and-sandals epic. It’s hard to look past the glossy stylised design of 300 and the discussions of racial politics which surrounded it. Troy and Alexander were hardly solid examples of the genre which had been at the height of its popularity more than half a century ago. Aside from Gladiator, it’s hard to point to another big screen classical action movie that manages to do what it says on the tin. Although it’s a long way from perfect, Clash of the Titans at least delivers the intriguing visuals and impressive action that one expects from the genre. I was pleasantly surprised.
A remake of the cult/kitsch classic, the movie offers us a war between mankind and the gods. The mere mortals no longer fear the gods which gaven them life, so the scheming Hades convinces his older brother Zeus to let him put some manners on the petulant children. Meanwhile, one of Zeus’ many, many illegitimate children, Perseus, witnesses the death of his adoptive parents in a scuffle with Hades, so decides to mount a revenge attack on the gods, hoping to save the port city of Argos before Zeus gives the order to “unleash the Kraken”.
What follows is your typical men on a mission story, with homoerotic tension, swords, beards and scars to beat the band. As Perseus and his band of merry men cross Ancient Greece trying to figure out how to kill the Kraken (understandably the knowledge is difficult to come across, as it’s a Scandinavian monster rather than a Greco-Roman one), they encounter all manner of sinister and grotesque creations rendered far more effectively in CGI than the stop motion of the original. Sure, you’re always conscious that you aren’t watching anything real, but there’s enough skill in rendering the world that you don’t mind. There are stone sculptures of an open palm, giant scorpions and countless other macabre delights thrown in.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie isn’t particularly deep. It’s very trite and predictable. Especially the ending, which ties up Perseus’ quest for vengeance in a neat little bow. There are some really strange twists – like literally everywoman in the cast throwing themselves at Perseus in the last five minutes, and some really odd help from a character whose motivations are pretty sketchy for a guy in such an important role. I’m not spoiling anything, but there’s even a deus ex machina thrown in (literally), though I suppose that comes with the material.
Still, the movie hits most of the checkboxes for a film of this type, even if it’s only doing it in a workman-like fashion. There’s an effective declaration of hubris by the humans (which is almost mandatory in Greek plays so as to invoke the smiting from above) and bizarre scenery and monster choices. In fact, the film progresses much like a video game, with the travelling troupe battling their way across the land, losing lives as they do – moving from one boss to a bigger one.
However, if you accept it for what it is, it’s fun. The truth is that director Louis Leterrier delivers this fairly standard movie in a more than adequate fashion. Sure, there are some “interesting” choices thrown in – the way that the scenes filmed at Olympus look like someone smeared vaseline all over the camera – but it is mostly well put together. Leterrier knows how to film an action scene, and that carries a large amount of the movie over the line. There’s also a fair amount of camp carried over (seriously, check out the original), but Leterrier handles it well. Even the inevitable mechanical owl cameo isn’t as terrible as I might have feared originally.
The casting is a mixed bag. I just don’t see anything special about Sam Worthington – despite the fact he seems to be literally everywhere. He just doesn’t radiate screen presence for me. And I’m sorry, but Gemma Arterton should not be let anywhere near a film like this. She sounds like a sophisticated modern British woman rather than a mystic prophet – I half expect her to go on about the office gossip – though, in a way, she does, providing exposition for the group). Still, it’s fun to see Mads Mikkelson in a strong supporting role, and I enjoy seeing Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes compete at scenery chewing. By the way, was it just me or was that a tiny part for Danny Huston?
By the way, was it just me, or was it a bit lame how the trailers spoiled the whole “unleash the Kraken” bit? As in, showed exactly what the creature’s face looked like? I mean, I’m all for teasing, but show a couple of tenticles to whet your audience’s appetite (like in the image above) – revealing the whole creature from the film’s climax seems a little bit cheeky.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t perfect. I’m not even convinced it was very good, but I was solidly entertained and engaged for the runtime – rolling with the “dumb fun” aspect of the film. Which is really more than enough, isn’t it?
I was pleasantly impres
Filed under: Non-Review Reviews Tagged: | Ancient Greece, clash of the titans, classics, film, Gemma Arterton, greece, greek mythology, hades, liam neeson, louis leterrier, Movie, non-review review, ralph fiennes, review, rome, Sam Worthington, swords and sandals, unleash the kraken, zeus