It is a time of Gods. Man and monster co-exist, with Zeus (Liam Neeson) keeping a watchful eye on the world below. To an outsider, everything probably looks pleasant, but both sides are restless. Zeus is upset that fewer and fewer people are praying to him, and at the same time, the people of Argos have decided that the need for gods is a thing of the past. A group of soldiers from Argos are symbolically toppling a statue of Zeus when Hades (Ralph Fiennes) appears and blasts most of them to bits. Inadvertently, a young fisherman named Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his family (including Pete Postlethwaite as his adopted father) are caught in the crossfire, and only Perseus survives. The soldiers drag him from the water and back to Argos with them, where Hades reappears, and announces that everyone will die within a few short days, unless the Queen's daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is sacrificed to the Kraken. The surviving soldiers set out on a quest to bring Hades down, and Perseus tags along, looking to exact a little revenge.
The most commendable aspect of Louis Leterrier's remake of Clash of the Titans is that it isn't ashamed of how silly this story is on screen. It finds a balance I had no idea I missed so much: aside from one brief, clumsy reference to the original, Leterrier isn't interested in either winking at the camera or holding everyone's hand, and it's unquestionably the right approach for the material. It's been so long since I saw a movie and didn't feel like the studio sat down with the writers and said, "okay, so how do we make these giant scorpions believable", or that anyone had written it just to show the audience how meta and clever they are, and it's clear that someone (possibly longtime producer Richard D. Zanuck) realizes that a film taking itself internally seriously and appearing externally goofy isn't a one-or-the-other scenario, and wisely believes that ticket-buyers are smart enough to reconcile the two things without spelling it out.
The film's four major stars (Worthington, Neeson, Fiennes, and Mads Mikkelsen, best known in the US as Le Chiffre from Casino Royale) are all on board and ready to play, too, treading the line between ham and cheese. In particular, Fiennes goes to eleven, intoning each line in a raspy, villarious whisper and looking like a cross between an aging goth-rocker and evil wizard. I'd like to imagine every take of his in the film stops just short of him roaring with laughter. Even Worthington, who has thus far failed to live up to his silver-platter status as the next big star, allows some personality to slip in this time, and it really pushes the actor up a few notches. He and Mikkelsen share the best scene in the movie, a too-short bit where Mikkelsen's Draco (no relation to the Harry Potter character) pushes Perseus to pick up a sword.
Of course, it's probably telling that the best scene in a movie containing flying horses, the underworld, and a killer kraken is a truncated bit of friendly rivalry. Despite his work as an action director, Leterrier struggles to work the action sequences into the movie in a satisfying way. The first one takes far too long to arrive, and when it does, it brings disappointingly modern quick-cut techniques with it, and none of the supposedly escalating action beats that follow are any better. Honestly, I could have forgiven most of Clash's action problems with a knock-'em-dead final showdown between Perseus and Hades, but Leterrier's big finale is only extra-underwhelming. In between, the audience is treated to scene after scecne of mythology-related exposition, delivered by Gemma Arterton as Io with the dramatic flourish of a(n inaccurate) Wikipedia article, while supporting actors such as Nicholas Hoult and Jason Flemyng come and go without disturbing the scenery.
Online, the critical community is making a huge fuss over whether or not Titans deserves to be viewed in 3D. The film was converted to 3D in post-production four weeks before release, and the result is certainly a step down from the 3D of Avatar or Coraline, but it didn't bother me one way or another, and more importantly, I think the turnaround is a bigger issue than the tech. It doesn't matter anyway: Titans doesn't quite pack the punch it needs to be worth full ticket price, much less a $5 premium to see it in another dimension. Zeus leaves several gifts for Perseus, which Perseus repeatedly ignores, preferring to fight like a man. Somewhat similarly, I think Titans will play better on the small screen, where its flaws aren't so exaggerated, and viewers can make all the cheap popcorn they want.
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