Clash of the Titans -- How to Ruin Mythology
Clash of the Titans was one of the first summer movies of 2010. Here is a review of the movie, as well as a short course in Greek mythology. Beware of spoilers and a general disdain for this movie!
- Wait, this is a remake?
- The Quest of Perseus
- Giant Scorpions, Witches, and A Sea Monster
- The Anticlimactic Ending
- The Real Perseus
Wait, this is a remake?
Yes, Clash of the Titans (2010) is a remake of the 1981 film. Both movies are LOOSELY based on the Greek myth of Perseus, and while I have not watched the original, this film has none of the redeeming qualities of a fantasy movie. There are no eye-popping special effects (some scenes are well done but nothing to fawn over), no catchy one-liners, and none of the over-the-top acting that makes these kind of fantasy tales so entertaining. There are some good-looking people here and there (Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikkelsen), but none of them have a personality. Well, I give Mads Mikkelsen some credit, he was the only one with gravitas. Unfortunately, he isn't the main character.
The film begins with a short introduction of the three main Greek Gods -- Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. The three of them fought against the Titans and were almost defeated, except Hades helped them with his creation, the Kraken. Lesson #1 in Greek myth: The Greek Gods did indeed fight the Titans after they overthrew their father, Cronus, who did the Gods no favors by swallowing all of them when they were born (except Zeus). With the help of monsters and other rebel Titans, as well as Zeus' thunderbolt, they defeated the Titans and took over Mount Olympus. Kraken is not part of Greek myth, although it is an interesting touch. The Olympians consisted of more than the three brothers, but we only see that briefly in the movie.
After defeating the Titans, Zeus tricked Hades and banished him to the Underworld. Zeus became the God of humans while Poseidon took over the seas. Hades gains power through fear, while his brothers gain power through human worship. Lesson #2: Zeus and his brothers drew straws for realms of the world. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. Hades rarely left the underworld and was not even considered an Olympian. He was a terrible God because of what he represented, not because he was so terrible himself. There are no stories of Hades wanting to overtake Zeus.
The story shifts to the present-day when a fisherman finds a coffin. Inside are a dead mother with a baby boy, and the fisherman adopts this baby boy, naming him Perseus. From afar, we see a woman watching the fisherman. Her name is Io (Gemma Arterton), and she states that the hopes of mankind depends on this boy.
The Quest of Perseus
Perseus (Sam Worthington) grows up as the son of the fisherman, who marries and has another child. Perseus loves his family very much. Unfortunately, his poor family is destroyed by Hades for witnessing Hades' minions attack and kill a band of warriors from Argos, who toppled a statue of Zeus. Humans are rebelling against the Gods. They are tired of being mistreated and think they are better than the capricious, unkind Gods. Perseus is the only survivor of the whole incident, and he grieves for his family (he basically survived because he is half-God). The only scene that elicited any emotion whatsoever is the scene where Perseus is unable to save his family. This tragedy gives Perseus a believable motivation for his later actions.
In Argos, as a prisoner of the military, Perseus watches the royalty mock the Gods, even though Hades has just destroyed their warriors. Huh? Hades appears again and teaches the Queen a lesson for comparing the beauty of her daughter, Andromeda, to the Gods. She is aged many years (I am not sure if she is killed), in a special effect that is reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Then Hades demands the sacrifice of the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) or he will release the Kraken to destroy Argos. Before Hades leaves, he calls out Perseus, naming him the son of Zeus (which is news to him).
Perseus decides to destroy the Kraken to get revenge on Hades for killing his family. The King had asked for his help anyway since Perseus is half-God. Io also visits Perseus, telling him the truth of how he was conceived, and her own quest against the Gods. She was cursed by a God for refusing his advances, and has never aged, watching her loved ones die. Io guided baby Perseus to the fisherman who adopted him and has watched over him since, believing he is the key to defeating the Gods. A band of warriors, led by Draco (played by Mads Mikkelsen), follow him on a quest to retrieve the head of Medusa, which is apparently the only thing that can defeat the Kraken. Will Perseus be able to defeat Medusa who can turn people into stone by her stare? Even if he defeats Medusa, can he come back in time to defeat the Kraken and save Argos?
Lesson #3: Io was an unfortunate woman of Greek myth. Zeus fell in love (or lust, more accurately) with her and disguised her as a heifer from his wife, Hera. Hera was no fool, and she demanded the heifer as a present. Long story short, Hera made Io's life miserable, and Io wandered the world before she became a human again. So, Io is actually a great-great-times something mother of Perseus.
Lesson #4: The movie does not venture too far from the real myth of Medusa. Medusa was indeed once a beautiful woman, who was cursed by Athena for sleeping with Poseidon in Athena's temple. However, Medusa lived with her two sisters, and all of them were called the Gorgons. Only Medusa had been beautiful. They did not live in a temple in the Underworld, but a far-off, unknown place, that humans did not know of. Perseus killed her with the help of the Gods. No other humans came with him on his quest.
Giant Scorpions, Witches, and A Sea Monster
We usually watch fantasy movies like Clash of the Titans for the special effects, action scenes, and entertaining acting. Unfortunately, this movie has very little of these things. First, the acting is not exactly awful, but it's hard to really feel anything for any of these characters. You definitely feel sorry for the family of Perseus who were destroyed by a God's ruthless whim. However, Sam Worthington is not the world's best actor and in the dramatic scenes, he plays it much too mellow. He is fine in the action scenes, but he can't carry the movie from the mundane territory it is stuck in. I think Sam Worthington could do fine in a different movie (there must be a reason he is getting all of these roles -- see Avatar and Terminator Salvation).
The rest of the actors scream and yell and wave swords in an almost entertaining fashion. As mentioned before, Mads Mikkelsen is the only one who plays his character convincingly. Gemma Arterton is pretty but otherwise forgettable. Alexa Davalos has, at most, three scenes, and is underused. Liam Neeson, as Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes, as Hades, ham it up nicely but not enough to make up for everyone else.
Speaking of Zeus and Hades, the costumes in this movie were underwhelming. The royalty of Argos were wearing togos and headbands straight out of the HBO production of Rome. Sam Worthington wanders around in a nondescript outfit in the first half and a very boring piece of armor for the later half of the movie. Gemma Arterton also wears a togo-like dress, which is only memorable in the fact that it changes lengths at various moments. However, it is really the Gods that show the production value of the costumes. Zeus and Hades are wearing glittery, Halloween costume-like clothes and wandering around a Mount Olympus that looks like Xena, Warrior Princess or Hercules, the Legendary Journeys. Note: Both of those were syndicated television shows. This movie is a summer "blockbuster".
The other special effects are forgettable as well. The giant scorpions have been done before, and the Kraken (this is not a spoiler, the monster was in the trailer) looks like the monster from Cloverfield. Kraken was better done in the Pirates of Caribbean movies. Medusa depended on CGI and was hardly terrifying. I will give stars to the Stygian Witches and the part where Perseus meets Charon, the ferryman to the Underworld. Those scenes did manage to give me chills.
The action scenes were not thrilling. Hollywood directors should take courses in directing action scenes to stop the repetitiveness, nauseating cut scenes, and slow-motion sequences. Clash of the Titans, unfortunately, had all of these bad characteristics.
The Anticlimactic Ending
Please do not read this section if you do not want the ending to be spoiled. Perseus and his band of warriors make it to Medusa. Io cannot follow them because only men can enter Medusa's temple. In the temple, all of the warriors die, except Perseus. I was in disbelief. When Perseus makes it out with Medusa's head, Acrisius/Calibos kills Io. (See the section after this to read about him). All of this seemed completely unnecessary. What is the point of killing off all of Perseus' friends? The movie also wants us to believe that Io means the world to Perseus, but it is unconvincing.
Zeus has decided to help his son by this point, and he sends the winged horse, Pegasus, to help Perseus return to Argos. Perseus battles the Kraken as well as Hades' minions in one of the most boring action scenes ever. Everything but Sam Worthington is CGI. This is not necessarily a bad idea, it has been well done before (see Lord of the Rings trilogy). However, it is hard to tell what is going on, and you can barely make out Sam Worthington amongst all the CGI. In addition, the fight with the giant scorpions took longer than the fight with the Kraken. I rest my case.
Zeus realizes too late that Hades was only helping him because his actions would cause fear among humans. Fear makes Hades stronger. Humans are no longer praying to Zeus, making him weak. Hades hopes to make Zeus weak enough so Hades can leave the Underworld and take Zeus' position on Olympus. Anyway, Perseus defeats the Kraken and saves Andromeda, and Zeus is able to banish Hades again. As a thank you, Zeus visits Perseus and returns Io to him, in what is supposed to be a sweet ending but instead, makes one roll their eyes. The movie had done nothing to convince us these two characters were in love or cared for each other. In addition, I was unsure if humans were suddenly feeling friendly towards Zeus again. Was anything really resolved between humans and the Gods?
The Real Perseus
Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. In the movie, Zeus decided to punish Acrisius (a King) for rebelling against Olympus by sleeping with his wife, Danae. When Acrisius discovered what had happened, he tried to kill his wife and the child, Perseus, by locking them in a coffin and throwing it into the sea. Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt and disfigured him (he later became the monster Calibos). Last lesson in Greek myth: Danae was the daughter of Acrisius, the King of Argos, and it was foretold that her son would kill Acrisius. He locked her up but Zeus impregnated her anyway (Danae was beautiful), and when Acrisius discovered Perseus, he set the mother and child afloat. They were found by a kind fisherman of an island.
Perseus grew up on the island. The King of the island wanted to marry Danae but he wanted Perseus out of the way. He pretended he was getting married and rashly, Perseus promised him the head of Medusa as a wedding present. In short, the Gods helped Perseus kill Medusa. On the way back with Medusa's head, Perseus saw Andromeda chained to a rock about to be devoured by a sea monster. She was a Princess of Ethiopia, and her mother did indeed brag about her daughter's beauty but she compared her to the Nereids, nymphs of the sea. Poseidon sent the monster as punishment and demanded Andromeda as a sacrifice. Perseus saved her by using Medusa's head against the monster (in some versions he just slew the monster himself) and took her away as his bride. He later discovered the island King's true intentions against his mother and turned him into stone.
If a movie plans to ruin a famous Greek myth, it should at least be good. Unfortunately, Clash of the Titans is unable to build a suspenseful, thrilling story about a hero's quest to defeat a horrible monster to avenge his family. The movie tried to make Perseus into a noble character and his family's murder should have made us care more about his quest. The idea of humans rebelling against unkind Gods is an interesting concept. The Gods were tyrannical and the people began to rebel. That is the kind of plot that should always be engrossing. However, all of these elements were not enough to rescue this movie. In the end, Hollywood should have considered the real myth of Perseus, which has enough monsters, intrigue, and action to make several movies.