Short tunics, thigh-high boots and a lot of eye candy make the campy remake of Clash of the Titans a delectable romp, full of ridiculous dialogue and overwrought effects.
Director Louis Leterrier’s redux of the 1981 original stars Avatar stud Sam Worthington as the the demi-god Perseus, a reluctant hero raised by a fisherman but fathered by the mighty Zeus (Liam Neeson). In this 3-D rendering of the Greek myth, the humans have had it with the Gods and wage war like insolent children in Togas that barely reach the knee. Spurred by the power-hungry Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the Gods strike back and threaten to unleash their most awful weapon — the Kraken, created here with apparent inspiration from Jurassic Park — unless the beautiful princess is sacrificed before the solar eclipse.
Perseus, however, isn’t going to take it anymore: Not the lack of fish, not the idol worship, or any other unspoken wrong that can’t be discerned during the film. With a script that’s melodramatic and ridden with cliches, it’s tempting to wonder whether Worthington, as newly minted Hollywood royalty, is ruing the day he took the role. To his credit, he plays out Perseus’s mission with dignity, slaying Medusa’s head with vigor and holding his boring demi-god protector, Io (Gemma Arterton), with devotion during what look like her final moments. Much like Avatar’s Jake Sully, Perseus is defiant, unconventional and willing to stand up for his convictions. In some respects, he’s a more satisfying hero, not only because his mortality is real, but because we get to savor his human attributes, complete with real biceps, a Grecian tan and perfect teeth.
Meanwhile, up on Mt. Olympus, the Gods get to romp in a smoky environment that feels like a 1980s heavy metal video. Zeus’s and Hades’s costumes only enhance this effect, with the heavenly ruler in a metallic, shoulder-padded get-up and the infernal leader sporting a coif that’s fit for a hair band. To their credit, both actors make the most of it, playing out a parable of modern power that Machiavelli could be proud of, while staying true to the film’s mythological roots.
It’s never clear what exactly the humans are rebelling against, but it doesn’t matter. Coming into his own as a warrior, Perseus is a stand-in for the American dream, longing freedom to become the master of his own universe. In this light, Clash of the Titans is ripe for co-opting by those who might embrace the promotion of self-governance. Fundamentally, though, poor orphan Persy is simply struggling with identity politics at a time when “mixed race” isn’t part of the equation.
Despite his lonely genetic lot, Perseus isn’t really alone. As he sets out on his epic journey across barren land, he has some help from more experienced warriors, a few pretty boys with long hair and the Djinn, an ethnically dubious tribe who possess magic powers. Io’s also handy to have around, until she’s sidelined by injury and P.’s left to his own devices for a final battle scene.
Loud and unrelenting, Clash of the Titans is a fantastical drag of epic proportions so boldly anachronistic that it feels like an homage more than a timely action film. But with a star who’s dripping with sex appeal and a few titans of acting, it manages to hold its own, reveling in all its un-modern glory.