There’s a lot of stuff in Warner Bros.’ newfangled “Clash of the Titans” remake, an update of the 1981 film that was only notable for the big time actors (Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith among them) slumming it and some charmingly herky-jerky visual effects. In the new “Clash,” tricked out with the latest in computer generated visual effects (which are just as phony as the original stuff), Gods seethe with righteous fury; colossal scorpions snap and sting; leviathans rise from the deep; and a multi-ethnic band of warriors set out in search of celestial justice.
But as much stuff as there is in “Clash of the Titans,” you’d be hard-pressed to describe what actually happens in the listless, overblown action fantasy.
The film, written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (with some muddily defined help from Lawrence Kasdan), starts off with a dopey prologue in which Io (Gemma Arterton) sets up the world for us, imbibing it with the appropriate amount of ponderous Greek mythology mumbo jumbo. Io’s speech is incredibly convoluted and basically boils down to the fact that there are gods (like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes) and then there are humans. But sometimes the gods and the humans, er, mingle, and demigods are born. One of those demigods is Perseus, first seen as an infant drudged up by a fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) and later as a strapping young lad (Sam Worthington). Perseus’ adopted family knows nothing of his mythical lineage.
One day the fisherman family comes across some irate townspeople who, fed up with the gods unspeakable neglect, start to trash a statue of Zeus (Liam Neeson). Just as soon as the statue is broken apart, a swarm of winged gargoyles descends and wreaks havoc on the heretics, killing them and tossing them into the sea. Pretty soon Hades (Ralph Fiennes) shows up and shoots a thunderous dark cloud at our hero’s boat, which is smashed to pieces, killing his family.
For some reason or another Perseus is taken in by the surviving soldiers of Hades’ attack and brought to the center of the city, where he’s presented before the young princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) and her parents, who go ahead and curse the gods even though Hades just wiped out about a dozen of their countrymen. Sure enough, Hades shows up, kicks everyone’s ass, but not before letting Perseus know that Zeus is his true father and telling the good townspeople that unless they sacrifice Andromeda he will unleash the Kraken, a huge monster that we’re all somewhat familiar with, having seen the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (for those of you who don’t remember, it’s the big squiddy thing that ate Johnny Depp).
So Perseus is drafted by some of the local soldiers (Mads Mikkelsen, Nicholas Hoult), even though he’s just some weakling fisherman. Still, everyone believes that his divine bloodline will lead them on their quest. The testosterone clan sets off, along with Io (for some reason), to see the fates, who can tell them how to defeat the Kraken and send Hades back to, well, Hades.
These sequences of the mortals mulling over their fate are interspersed with sequences of the gods mulling over the mortals’ fate. Liam Neeson, in a shiny disco suit of armor, bellows with the best of him, and he’s surrounded by a bunch of interesting actors who either say one line (like Danny Huston, playing Poseidon) or just stand around (apparently Jane March, from the transcendent so-bad-it’s-good Bruce Willis erotic thriller “Color of Night” plays Hestia). These sequences have this weird, swimming pool shimmer and play like the Jedi Council scenes in the “Star Wars” prequels.
But the majority of “Clash of the Titans” is following Perseus and his cohorts (including some weird wooden guys who look like that little alien that hung out with Simon Pegg from “Star Trek”) as they go along their journey, which is incredibly loud and extremely dull. Sequences drone on and on, like the aforementioned scorpion attack, with little thought given to geographic orientation or common sense. Shakily filmed and choppily edited, full of creature designs that look like the kind of stuff Guillermo del Toro doodles on cocktail napkins, these sequences don’t thrill as much as they confuse and deaden. Key characters are killed off and we feel nothing, because we know nothing about them. They just blend into the noise.
And the 3D (added late in the game and at great expense to the producers) doesn’t help it just hurts, adding another layer of blurry nothingness to a film that barely exists at all. By the time the movie reaches its frenzied climax, with Perseus riding the Pegasus around the multi-armed Kraken, there’s so much poorly rendered movement on the screen that a headache is pretty much a given. They should hand out Tylenol with your popcorn and soda.
If there’s one thing that “Clash of the Titans” accomplishes it’s demystifying a couple of Hollywood myths.
The first is that Sam Worthington is anything less than the dullest young action star on the planet who, when not surrounded by the next-gen wizardry of James Cameron, is more or less a personality vacuum. Here he merely stands around looking oafish. For the first half of the movie he doesn’t really talk and in the second half he’s forced to deliver groan-worthy action hero one liners (he calls Medusa a “bitch” – good for him), but that doesn’t mean that he could have at least tried. Harrison Ford wasn’t exactly saddled with Shakespearean soliloquies and he still made Han Solo a likable rogue. If anything, Worthington acts like a charm void, sucking away interesting traits from the surrounding actors (never before has Mads Mikkelsen been so bland).
Another myth that’s demolished is thinking that the director, Louis Letterier, is anything but an inflated B-movie hack. His take on “The Incredible Hulk” was passable, but maybe we were just riding the high from the same summer’s “Iron Man.” Here he showcases his tin ear for action movie rhythm and pacing, and these are the scenes he’s supposed to be good at. Any scene not involving some kind of clanging beast is even worse, playing like some hoary old melodrama that stretches on and on, forever and ever. Wasn’t anything learned from watching the creaky original? Letterier knows that all this silly, Saturday matinee stuff is supposed to be fun, right?
“Clash of the Titans” is a gods-awful mess from start to finish, one that, despite hundreds of millions of dollars of computer generated trickery (and the added flourish of 3D) can’t elevate its own bad, B-movie flimsiness. This is a shame, as it could have been a fun Saturday night romp (especially with some of the highbrow actors like Fiennes clearly slumming it), but even as a guilty pleasure it’s a horrible failure. It’s the closest thing you’ll experience to being cursed by the gods. [D-]