Sam Worthington plays Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) who is unaware of his divine origins. Perseus is a fisherman with his adopted family until they become caught in the middle of a war between the gods and the citizens of Argos (probably not a good idea to fight an enemy that can just smite you).
Zeus, weary of humanity’s insolence, allows his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to retaliate rather harshly. After his family is killed in the melee, Perseus drifts to Argos, where Hades threatens to unleash a sea monster called the kraken unless the city sacrifices Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).
Realizing his destiny, Perseus goes with a band of soldiers on a quest to find a way to defeat the kraken, weaken Hades and bring balance back to Olympus.
The film’s story sticks a little closer to the original than I thought it would, but that also means that the script, by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, is a bit of a muddled mess, and feels like a mishmash of whatever mythology the writers half-remembered from high school (and the kraken, by the way, comes from Norse myths, not Greek). The script tries to give a through line to this mess by giving Perseus a revenge quest—he really wants to get Hades for killing his adopted family—but never quite manages to sell it. Indeed, the film never gives convincing motivation for anything that any of the characters do in the entire film.
The script also suffers a bit from a lack of internal logic. Even though the film has the ticking clock of 10 days until the kraken attacks, Perseus and his men seem to roam all over the world, mostly on foot, through forests and deserts and into the underworld—and still, nothing of consequence seems to happen.
The film was directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), who knows how to put an effective action sequence together. At its best, such as the sequence in which Perseus and his men fight some giant scorpions, the film feels like a throwback to a pre-digital time of movie magic. However, the climactic battle against the Kraken is almost nonsensical, devolving into an incoherent tangle of tentacles, falling rocks and winged horses (it’s less entertaining than it sounds).
Mostly, though, Leterrier keeps the pace up and keeps the audience awake without entirely holding their interest. The original Clash could be rather stately and silly (see: clockwork owls), and the remake’s response it to keep the action coming relentlessly. Yet, with all the activity, the film never escapes the basic problem that, despite all the gods and monsters, the movie is still kind of dull.
The film may be no more than a thoroughgoing mediocrity, but its cast does a good job of giving the movie a bit of flavor. On Olympus, Neeson and Fiennes have an epic battle as they try to out-act each other. Neeson growls and twinkles as Zeus (though I don’t know why a god needs to wear armor), and Fiennes gasps and slouches his way through the film as Hades, finding a new and interesting way to play ultimate evil that doesn’t particularly resemble his work as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.
On the ground, there are quite a few character actors who class up the film with their mere presence. Postlethwaite brings his gravitas to the role of Perseus’ adopted father. Mads Mikkelsen, who played the villain in the remake of Casino Royale, takes an underwritten role, as one of the soldiers who accompanies Perseus on his quest, and makes it interesting.
Unfortunately, the film has a sizeable hole at its center. At some point, somebody made Sam Worthington a movie star without asking any of the rest of us. Within the last year, Worthington has been in this film, Avatar and Terminator: Salvation, and so far he hasn’t given a single compelling performance, or shown a single reason why he should be headlining huge blockbusters. He’s absolutely adequate here, but he never shows us any inner life. Even his screams of righteous fury as he slays monsters don’t seem convincing.
The film also suffers from an unfortunate decision to convert it hastily to 3-D after the fact, making it seem more like a pop-up book than like Avatar. Viewers would be well-advised to see the film in 2-D, saving a bit of money and getting the better visual experience.
Clash of the Titans has some well-staged action and constant forward motion, along with a few good performances, but it never rises above that basic level of mediocrity to become something that thrills or inspires. The film isn’t a failure, but it is surprisingly mundane, and after seeing it you may find yourself wondering where all the titans were.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.