Clash of the Titans: Hold the Kraken!

04/02/2010 8:00 AM |

Clash of the Titans
Directed by Louis Leterrier

Like so many recent special effects-bonanza blockbusters, Clash of the Titans is stubbornly, irritatingly self-serious, too caught up in its excruciating machinations to flaunt its campy charms—which, consequently, wind up being reduced to nearly nil. Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 2) and his screenwriting team of Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, could learn a few things in this respect from Michael Bay, who at least acknowledges with knowing winks that he realizes just how absurd his movie events are even as they hurtle along on their explosive trajectories.

Titans, meanwhile, marks one brief nod to its predecessor, the 1981 camp classic of loincloth-clad cavorting, while borrowing daddy issues and a lightsaber from Star Wars, copious helicopter shots of a hiking hodgepodge posse replete with short people from Lord of the Rings, eyeball-palming monsters from Pan's Labyrinth and a sea-worthy lizard from Godzilla, among many others. After the first sequence, in which Perseus (Sam Worthington) is fetched in infancy from his mother's watery tomb and raised by the principled, increasingly agonized fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite, always excellent) only to see his adoptive family drowned by Hades (Ralph Fiennes), all acting, emoting, conflict and character development is kept at an absolute minimum to facilitate the sequencing of set pieces.

The film's thematic underpinnings, more plainly and gravely explicated here than in the original, have to do with a pseudo-metaphysical showdown between the Olympian gods led by Zeus (Liam Neeson) and the rebelling humans of the economically stratified seaside city Argos, who must either sacrifice their bitterly class-conscious princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) or be leveled by power-hungry Hades' unruly pet kraken. It's briefly suggested that the humans are tired of the tyrannical fates handed down to them by the gods and fighting for self-governance, a potentially interesting ethical conflict that's quickly reduced to Perseus's childish refusal to be called a demi-god. "I'm just a man," he repeats incessantly in the same grumbling tone. (Worthington continues to be the most alarmingly bad new leading man, leaving Shia LaBeouf a distant second.)

Finally, begrudgingly, Perseus accepts the gifts his estranged father Zeus keeps sending him—including the lightsaber, the Pegasus (an equestrian equivalent of the big dragon/pterodactyl from Avatar that "nobody has ever ridden before"), some money and a woman. That would be Io (Gemma Arterton), the only female character other than Andromeda with more than one line, who goes from a chorus-like narrator early on, to Perseus's guardian angel, companion in battle and finally his love interest. The rest of the backpacking band is a Seven Dwarfs-ian squad of bros, including angry general Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), pleasantly pessimistic veteran Solon (Liam Cunningham) and dopey newbie Eusebios (Nicholas Hoult). For better or worse, there's more walking than talking in Titans—ancient Greeks being, apparently, incapable of doing two things at once—and any budding camaraderie or group dynamic is lost by the time the film's first and only good action sequence crawls out of the sand and dudes start dying.

With the giant scorpions dispatched—or tamed, rather, by the desert-dwelling Djinn (read: Arabs) to be used as much cooler camels—Perseus and his fast-diminishing squad of warriors proceed through a series of Herculean confrontations with monstrous women that become progressively less exciting until Liam Neeson finally says, "Release the kraken!" Whatever giant monsters and too few loose narrative ends are taken care of thereafter are completely cursory, and Titans ends with a creepily, though not unexpectedly self-satisfied return to the status quo. Neeson and Fiennes, meanwhile, are muzzled under ridiculous hair metal costumes and bleary lighting effects that make them virtually indistinguishable. And for the rockstar monster build-up it gets, the kraken is about as awe-inspiring as Alf. The most impressive feat that this desperate-to-impress adventure manages is to come off feeling simultaneously slight and bloated. Appeasing the gods after this disaster is going to require some titanic sacrifices.