Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (2010): Louis Leterrier

World-class effects spawned the career of Harry Hamlin and capped Ray Harryhausen’s, effects master–oh, wait, this is not that movie. This the is the remake. The one from 2010. You remember it. released in 3D, it made a modest splash at the box office, enough to garner a sequel.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Release the Kraken!

Hero (4/10)

Perseus (Sam Worthington) came to Spyros, his adoptive father, Moses-like, in a floating box. When young Perseus discovers he will soon have a brother, he fears that his parents will not love him as much. Spyros assures him that his love is more than flesh and bone. “It’s that love that gods and kings fight over,” he tells his son. He came to them for a reason, and “one day, that reason is going to take you far away from here.”

Sam Worthington
Sam Worthington

One day is exactly 12 years later. The family fishes in the sea but comes up with scraps. Spyros is tired of thanking the gods for nothing. “One day, somebody’s going to have to say ‘Enough.’”

Yessir, today’s the day. Hades, miffed at Argos soldiers for striking down Zeus’s statue, accidentally kills Perseus’s family. Their deaths ignite a fire of rage in Perseus that isn’t doused until Hades is thwarted. And Perseus is angry. He’s plenty ready to stab Hades in Argos, despite having just watch the god suck a dozen soldiers into a maelstrom.

That rage never leaves him. When Perseus visits the Stygian witches, he threatens to throw away the one eye the trio shares. When they tell him about Medusa, he tosses the eye near the fire, not caring much if it burns. That’s their only eye, Perseus!

Son of Zeus, the demigod walks and runs and slashes through the movie without an ounce of joy or gratitude. That is Worthington’s way, maybe? Pegasus, a horse never ridden by Man, lets Perseus mount him. He doesn’t thank him. The gods toss him a light saber. He takes it, never thanking whichever god let him have it. Dad gives him a shiny gold coin to pay Charon. Guess what Perseus didn’t do.

All this rage likely derives from being a demigod, a job he didn’t ask for. He refuses to use the light saber because he wants to do it “as a man.” “But you are not just a man,” Draco, his compatriot, says. No matter, he can do it as a man, as if you can just turn off your father’s genotype.

The Perseus of this Clash owes a debt to Maximus from Gladiator. The Roman soldier suffers the death of his family at the hands of a god. Roman emperors considered themselves gods, and Hades was a god.

Perseus, like Maximus, defeats the one who murdered his family. Maximus is offered the Imperial title, but he refuses. Perseus would “rather die in the mud…than live forever as a god.” He turns down the rule of Argos as well.

Worthington brought too much rage to the role, but not in the right places. We needed to see more right after he watches his family drown. He just moans a bit. Sure, he’s in shock, but we need to see the rage that will drive him to attempt deicide, but it’s not there.

Villain (5/10)

Argos kickstarts the War on Olympus by toppling a statue of Zeus. Cue the anger of the Gods. A dozen red-eyed harpies burst from the sea and swirl around the soldiers. They don’t need much time to dispatch them.

The harpies coagulate into Hades, not Zeus. Ralph Fiennes brings an emphysematic’s voice to the God of the Underworld. He returns to the sea, destroying Perseus’s ship, sending it to the sea floor.

Hades, banished to serve the dead for all eternity after the fall of the Titans, believes that Perseus will help him overthrow brother Zeus. How, exactly, is never explained. We only know, from the mouth of Hades, that the fear and pain of Zeus’s children feed him.

Hades, or possibly a scene from Battlefield Earth
Hades, or possibly a scene from Battlefield Earth

But Hades is not yet strong enough to fight Zeus. He strikes a deal with the deformed Calibos. You kill Perseus, I’ll kill Zeus. They seal the deal with a Greek Handshake, which is where you’re a god, and you breath some of your powers into the monster, your collaborator. Happens all the time.

Fiennes treats every character he plays with utmost gravitas, as if the entire world hinges on his character’s actions. In Clash, they kind of do. If the Kraken destroys Argos, Hades will kill Zeus and all humankind will suffer.

Hades has a weakness, though. If the Kraken falls, Hades will be weak enough to strike a death blow. What is “death,” when it pertains to gods? I think Zoroaster asked that. Or maybe Trent Reznor. Anyway, Hades will lose if the Kraken loses. Simple stakes; the Kraken is to Hades as long hair is to Samson.

Hades as a character has one drawback. He’s prone to repetition. Io helpfully told us how prayer works in the opening narration of the cosmos: Zeus and his brethren feed off it. Hades shows up on Olympus about 12 minutes later and explains to the gods that they feed off of human prayer. We know, Hades. Really striking a blow for omniscience. Later, he repeats that he dines on humanity’s fear.

Action/Effects (7/10)

Greek epics are as full of action as stories get. Fighting a god, what’s more epic?

Toward the movie’s end, when the reduced Greek crew of soldiers and Perseus, plus a Djinn, breach Medusa’s palace, they have no plan. All they have is “Don’t look her in the eye.” They have to get Medusa’s head to freeze the Kraken to save Argos.

Inside, Medusa slithers in the shadows for a few moments, her echoing laugh symbolizing her last vestige of humanity. The guys slink around, too, until Draco is shot in the chest. Girl’s got bow skills.

Medusa
Medusa

Solon falls into the fiery pits surrounding Medusa’s home. Two of the other guys stand around waiting for her to slide by. Instead of paying attention they order each other to shut up. “No, you shut up!” They get stoned.

So there aren’t a lot of guys left. Perseus and the Djinn set a trap, using the demigod as bait. Medusa chases the him as Draco recovers from his shooting and canters about the columns.

The Djinn slices some snakes from Medusa’s ‘do. She ensnares him and tries to flash-freeze him. It doesn’t work. He laughs, a chuckle that sounds much like the Predator mimicking human laughter.

Medusa’s enraged face melts to show human fear and sadness. She’s still human in there somewhere. The Djinn’s ice-blue heart glows and he says to Perseus “Together,” and explodes. Medusa’s tail flops into the fire below.

Perseus has his one chance to use the shield’s reflective powers to decapitate Medusa, and he doesn’t miss.

The original Clash of the Titans was remarkable and renowned for its special effects. Today they look as dated as King Kong, but their power and effectiveness can’t be underrated. The updated Clash has great effects, but hardly world-beating. I’ll list some of the more notable.

The Olympians get their own touches: both makeup and special effects. Olympus is shot in a shiny vaseline lens, so the touches are subtle. Poseidon appears wet, his skin like someone who just got out of the shower, or, perhaps, the sea. His trident sparkles with pinwheels. Apollo holds a spear beside him, and the tip shines like the sun.

Huge scorpions, flying harpies, Pegasus, the Kraken–they all kick ass. Only Medusa appears more computer generated than human. Although, I admit to not looking directly at her. The Djinn, desert sorcerers, looked regal, ancient, and frightening, much like the Fremen. Their blue eyes glowed, and their faces were not skin, but bark, or stone, or something.

The single best effect, in a film full of them and as an homage to a legendary film in its own right, nearly killed Perseus. Calibos bites Perseus during their first fight. Not much comes of it, until he approaches the Djinn. His elbow starts to melt and burn, looking like the edge of paper when lit aflame.

Sidekicks (6/8)

If Perseus is a thick piece of cardboard, his sidekicks are fine Grecian urns.

Gemma Arterton plays Io, who narrates the opening explanation of the genesis of the titans, gods, and the Kraken. Io, we learn later, is neither god nor human, but something in between. She’s immortal, cursed with it for refusing Zeus’s advances, and so witnessed the baby Perseus survive being thrown in the sea.

Io first appears as a muse or mentor figure, nudging Perseus along when he needs guidance. She stays his hand when he grabs a sword to attack Hades in Argos, telling him he will get his chance. She follows him through the forest on his quest to kill Medusa.

Io becomes an active character when she arrives to fight the huge scorpions, flinging her sling at one and cutting off its stinger. She knows what Medusa is and how she will fight. Io has lived for a long time, and seems to know all the tricks of the trade, including a classic male come-on technique.

In the hold of Charon’s boat, Perseus practices hand-to-hand with Io, to prepare for his fight with Medusa. She tells him the snake woman will use her tail, that he must smell her and hear her to slay her. Perseus, a fast learner, catches Io and downs her, straddling her. She tells him to “ease your storm,” a fantastic line for curbing one’s libido.

Io’s death, at the hands of Calibos, is tragic, but Zeus brings her back for Perseus at movie’s end. Once again, God created Woman as companion to Man.

Mads Mikkelsen, as Argive tough man Draco, nearly steals the movie. He debuts in the Argive court, witnessing Hades’s appearance and ultimatum. Draco chooses to fight, understanding fully the task’s impossibility.

Draco says, “The Kraken is the end of us. A colossal, elemental beast. It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. Even the gods fear it.” But he goes anyway to protect princess Andromeda. What is fear to men like Draco?

Draco is full of anger at Perseus. “There’s a god in you,” he tells him after Perseus’s very first sword handling practice. “Be sure to bring it.” Later, when Perseus refuses to use a sword sent from Olympus, Draco throws him into a tent.

For all Draco’s venom, he spits great lines. He flashes a grin at Perseus in Medusa’s lair, just as he’s turned to stone. Before that, he tells Perseus, “Let them know men did this.” When asked why he never smiles, he says, “When I spit in the eyes of gods, then I’ll smile.” He addresses the two brothers who want to join their quest by saying, “If you can keep up, and you don’t mind dying, come along.”

Henchmen (4/8)

Calibos, former foster father-turned-murderer, accepts Hades’s plan to kill Perseus for Zeus. He seems to hate Perseus, but maybe he just wanted to get out of that dirty slop hole a few hundred feet below Argos, where he’s lived, Phantom-like, for the past few decades.

Once he gets out he takes advantage. We don’t see him again until he literally rips an Argive in half. That cues some fisticuffs detailed later. Just recall that Calibos is dispatched, but not before bleeding enough to generate enormous scorpions.

The attack of the 50-foot scorpions occurs in an orange desert, to where the Argives have chased Calibos. These arachnids are angry, and they know exactly who to kill. Why do they know this? Wouldn’t they be content to, after being called into existence, scrabble away? What harm can a few humans do them? Such is the nature of these particular supernatural deities.

The scorpions are very powerful. Only when Perseus climbs into one does it die. But those were the small ones. To dispatch the large scorpions, perhaps 50 feet tall, the humans require the dark magic of the local Kiwanas chapter of Djinn.

Stunts (3/6)

Calibos ignites the best fight scene. After he rips in two an Argive soldier he strikes at Perseus, sending him rolling down a hill. Earlier, during his fight training, Draco told Perseus that if he falls down, he dies. Perseus immediately falls down in the fight. But he doesn’t die.

At the bottom of the hill Perseus has little time to gather his wits before Calibos is lunging at him with his sword. Perseus dodges the blow and tries to strike one, but it’s blocked and Calibos Mike Tysons Perseus’s elbow.

Draco and co. arrive, the former shooting Calibos in the torso, to little effect. Draco drop kicks Calibos, two-legged, to zero effect. The monster kills or maims three or four guys, even crushing one’s skull with his hand. That was a neat effect and I wonder how they pulled it off. Calibos grips Perseus, ready uphold his end of the bargain with mouth-breathing Hades, when Draco cuts off the creature’s hand.

Nothing else worked, except that. Calibos runs away. Fight over. Solon asks Perseus, “Who was that?” and Perseus says, “I don’t know. Let’s ask him.” They give chase right into desert and the blood-borne scorpions. The two wild and crazy brothers earn a dollop of Nickelodeon slime. Draco leaps atop one scorpion and kills it after a few stabs. Perseus uses a shield to block a sting.

They struggle to kill the little guys. Then the big boys show up. The survivors are ready to engage, until they hear the magic spells of the Djinn. Deus Ex Djinn.

Perseus saves his best fighting for Calibos. After he kills Medusa and greets a smiling Io, Calibos instantly kills her. Perseus is so mad that he forgets to use Medusa’s head and just fights him like you’d fight any old cursed monster with god powers: with a sword. Granted, it’s the light saber Perseus refused earlier, but it still ain’t a Medusa head.

It’s a brief fight, but Perseus has learned much since they last tangled, namely to back flip three times before impaling his foster dad on the sword.

Climax (5/6)

Screenwriting tip: if you want your audience to know when the ending is beginning, have Zeus, King of the Gods, command, “Release the Kraken!”

The Kraken is released. The sea floor outside of Argos kraks open. Three tentacles stream from the breach and surface. They explode from the water and crush buildings. The sea rises and sweeps away the Argives on the waterfront. Tentacles smash people in the streets. All this damage, and we have barely seen the creature.

The Kraken. Dope abs.
The Kraken. Dope abs.

As the Kraken turns the Argives into fish food, hundreds of clay figurines lining the halls of Olympus tumble and dissolve. The gods feel the deaths of humans. Hades uses the moment to taunt Zeus. He reminds his brother that “I survive on their fear,” which he said earlier. Zeus reminds him of a certain demigod still out there.

Cue Pegasus and the first human to ever ride him, Perseus. Hades zips down to Earth and delegates the fighting to his harpies. One of ’em snags the Medusa bag, launching a chase through Argos. The camera tracks the Pegasus in a long take of harpies evading the famed flying horse.

Perseus snags a weapon and uses lures a harpy into a trap, grounding it. The Argives surround it and beat it to “death.” I use quotes because the thing spawned from Hades, so it might be alive, dead, undead, nonliving, or something else.

Anyway, the humans pummel the harpy. This fighting defines the Argives, and Greeks generally, more than you might think. If a harpy flew through your streets, you’d probably first piss yourself. You might run from it or stand in awe. But the Greeks just beat it up. Even the brothers are there, riding their new scorpion friend.

Then the Kraken stands up. It bellows with the sound of one million untuned tubas. The only guy excited about it is the religious fanatic obsessed with killing Andromeda, Burning Man, who cries for joy. Andromeda, hanging from a scaffold, is there to sate the Kraken. I really hope “sate” means it’ll eat her, but with the Greeks you never know.

That Medusa head is still out there. Pegasus and the harpy with the bag fly around the Kraken’s swirling tentacles and arms like a dragonfly might fly around a skyscraper. Worthington, auditioning for Avatar, leaps from the Pegasus and crashes into the harpy, capturing the bag.

The Kraken shows its stinking face to Andromeda, its sacrifice. Burning Man is stoked. The Kraken suffers from serious underbite, possibly fueling its rage. Perseus runs up the angled scaffold and unveils Medusa’s head, its powers still active after death.

The stoning begins, but the Kraken is so large that its effect slowly flows through the monster. It has time raise its left claw and drive it down toward the platform holding up Andromeda, Perseus, and the Burning Man, who, in euphoria of death, murders King Cepheus. The claw conglomerates, cracks, crumbles, and crushes Burning Man.

Argos nearly got a nice, terrifying statue out of the ordeal, but the Kraken collapses back into the sea, along with Medusa’s head. Hades shows up real quick, but Perseus, with a little help from Dad, throws a sword into his chest, sending a Great Ball of Blue Fire back into Hell.

Remember in the beginning, when Hades smote Spyros’s ship? Perseus dove deep to catch the sinking ship. He pried open the upside down hull, only to watch his family die.

The Kraken is destroyed, but Andromeda falls into the sea. Perseus dives again, chasing after her, rescuing her, and landing on the beach. They’re in for a rude awakening, as Pegasus kicks sand on them. Everyone is OK. Well, everyone who survived.

More movies should use Krakens.

Jokes (1/4)

Comic relief comes courtesy of Liam Cunningham as Solon, The Joke Giver. He’s excited about the Heroic Journey to kill the Kraken. “May we complain about it bitterly as old men.”

When the groups rests in the forest, one of the hoplites plays a flute very badly. Solon beckons for it, as if to show him how, but instead he gives him what for, breaking the flute in two. The guy draws out a second flute from his bag.

Fiennes’s scratchy-voiced Hades made me laugh, though I think the filmmakers did not intend that.

Setting (3/4)

Greece. The name evokes age, wisdom, swords, spears, sandals, and scorpions. OK, most of those things. Clash exploits the popular image of Greece with beautiful images and settings.

The Canary Islands stood in for Greece and came out beautifully. The characters spend much of the movie walking across hilly deserts and fern-covered forest floors. And they do this without any gear. Each man carries his weapons. That’s it. No food, no water, no pack animals, nor mentions of them. How they survive, though, is never in doubt: they are Greek Heroes, Destined for Immortality.

Argos is a beautiful mountainside port city of impeccably clean streets and markets. Cepheus’s palace is pristine, sullied only when Hades murders the local soldiers.

Legit Argos, Greece. No Kraken, no problem
Legit Argos, Greece. No Kraken, no problem

The Djinn control the desert of the scorpion battle. Funny thing is, it’s full of Greek ruins. Even the Ancient Greeks had an Ancient Greece. I have a theory, that perhaps the large scorpions and Djinn running around turned contemporary Greece into Ancient Greece.

Actually ancient was the Underworld and Medusa’s lair. She lived in a fiery cauldron adorned with ruined buildings and lifelike statuary, mostly of men who had come to look upon her. Turning men to stone is her thing.

Here’s a theory about Medusa: all these men are shown as statues around her compound. They must have come to kill her, perhaps to take her head as Perseus does. Certainly they didn’t come for sex, because, though once beautiful and human, she is no longer either. No one would go to such lengths to kill a human, so either they came to win a war or to slay a beast. Statues abound, so I guess Greece was rampant with war and monsters.

The cutest setting belongs to the Stygians. The crones live in the palm of a curling stone hand. Is it a large statue? Is it the hand of a creature once victimized by Medusa? No answer is given, but the witches make it their place, adding body parts of newt and a fire burns, if no cauldron bubble.

Finally, Olympus. Zeus has a throne in the palace, beside which is perched a bald eagle, making Zeus the embodiment of American ideals. The other gods stand on daises surrounding a real-time vision of Greece. I say vision because I suspect they gaze upon actual Earth, like a spy satellite, and not a reprojected image, even though they meet on a mountain. Lining the halls of Olympus are the clay figurines of all living humans, as described in the climax section.

Commentary (1/2)

Bible references abound. Perseus has a human mother, but his dad’s a god. As a boy, he was cast into a box and thrown in the water, raised by different parents. Other guys are calling Perseus “Fisherman” like he’s one of the 12 Disciples. Zeus (re)creates a woman for his Adam (Perseus).

I don’t know if these parallels were intentional or not. Which makes an interesting conundrum. Did the producers draw the parallels because they Christianized a Hellenistic tale without know what they had done, or did they do so knowing it would help sell the movie to Christian audiences?

Perseus might be a demigod, but wants to trade on his humanity. While traveling atop a scorpion toward the Stygian witches he says, “We’re making good time,” like all men throughout history have said on journeys of good time and bad.

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

The Greek mythologists were not kind to women. If they aren’t being raped by the gods as showers of gold or swans, they’re turned into immortals or snakes. Sometimes they must die to sate the Kraken. Sometimes they must die because they were raped by a god. Except for Leda, raped by a Zeus-swan, all these women were in Clash.

Queen Cassiopeia survives, but severely aged. She had it coming. Of Andromeda, her daughter, she asks, “What could be more divine than her face?” Then she literally says, “We are the gods now.” That’s offensive…to the gods. Hades comes down and says, “You are specks of dust beneath our fingernails,” which is just a funny line and offensive to no one.

Just when you think Andromeda and Perseus will get together, Zeus shows up and resurrects Io. Io, who lamented her immortality earlier, is again alive. Did she ask for that? Zeus don’t care. She hopefully isn’t immortal this time.

Perseus straight up throws his mother under the bus. Metaphorical bus. Trying to psych up his cohorts, he tells them that the only good man he knew was his father…until now. He also says that Io is the first good woman he knows. What about his foster mom? No mention of her.

And that’s because Greek culture was extremely male-centric. Whatever men did was good, and what women did was whatever. Their gods, however, were much more equal. Zeus was the king, and perhaps only slightly more powerful than the others. Perhaps not. But Olympus sported a pantheon of equal relative distribution of power between male and female gods.

Others

  • Arterton and Mikkelsen have a scene together. Couple of Bond actors. That is all.
  • Hades says to Calibos, “Zeus’s seed in your wife survived.”
  • (1) Djinn speak several times in the movie. They are known enemies of humans. “Together” is the only English word they speak, but not one is ever subtitled. I liked that. We don’t need to understand them to understand them.
  • Before disembarking from Argos, Perseus digs around and finds the mechanical owl, Bubo, from the first movie. He asks what to do with it. Solon tells him, “Just leave it.”
  • I really wanted to call residents of Argos “Argons.” But that name is not right.
Summary (38/68): 56%

Clash of the Titans clocks in well below two hours, which means we get fast action and heavy effects. Greek journeys are some of the best stories told in the Western canon, and Perseus’s is a great one.

The movie is well paced and exciting, visiting some of Greek mythology’s greatest hits.