Director Louis Leterrier’s loud-and-proud remake of 1981’s Ray Harryhausen-assisted Greek tale Clash of the Titans shares more in common with Avatar than just adventure, 3-D hubris and Sam Worthington’s blank stare: They’re both clarion calls to a seemingly forgotten demographic: middlebrow America.
Some would argue that all studios aim exclusively for the middle-class dollar, and that may be true in terms of marketing. But few filmmakers are so in tune with suburban dads’ thinly disguised inner 10 year old as James Cameron, and now, Leterrier.
Like Avatar, this new Titans paints in broad strokes, one-liners, stoic heroes and the comforting simplicity of mission plots. It’s the stuff Hollywood used to throw into theaters like chum in a shark tank; Conan sagas, pirate swashbucklers and cowboys-and-Indians stories are the bread-and-butter of Hollywood mythology. These tales are base, ignoble and hopelessly out of date, sure, but they’re embedded in our cultural DNA.
To that end, Titans performs its duties admirably. Despite a shaky start where we meet the fisherman Perseus (Worthington) and his humble family (both the script and the 3-D effects have a cheap, community theater feel here), the production recovers when Perseus receives his objective. There’s a power play happening between Zeus (Liam Neeson) and his brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and the poor, heathen town of Argos is caught in the crossfire. To pay for their deification of their royal family, they will be devoured by the dreaded Kraken unless they sacrifice their beloved princess, Andromeda.
Considering that these royals treat their kingdom in a way that would make Marie Antoinette’s cake offer seem honorable, you would think the townspeople would happily give up one fair maiden for the cause. And they would. (That the offering up of this damsel in white to the devil beast seems totally reasonable speaks to the failings of both the film and of Alexa Davalos as Andromeda.)
But Perseus, for some reason, demands a third option, and learns it may be possible by beheading Medusa and showing her to the Kraken. He gathers a band of brothers and heads south to the underworld for a good, old-fashioned suicide mission. Along the way, they meet giant scorpions, zombie desert people, a disfigured baddie and Pegasus, the flying horse, the riding of whom can make the manliest demigod come off as totally gay.
Leterrier finds a real groove about halfway through as the soldiers develop chemistry and the action sequences break out of the proscenium arch of the post-production 3-D that makes backdrops look like high-school matte paintings. Perseus’ motivation is never entirely clear, nor is his nobility remotely consistent. For instance, he makes several righteous speeches at the beginning of their journey about not wanting to rely on his godly status as Zeus’ son. “I fight as a man,” he growls at several requests that he pick up that special sword forged at Mount Olympus. “These gifts are a trap,” Perseus reasons. As each successive challenge increases in difficulty, those declarations fall by the wayside quicker than Andromeda’s chances of survival.
These are heavy problems, but none that are new to the fantasy genre, or the heroic adventure flick’s rich history, and they matter just as little here. Clash of the Titans isn’t art, but it’s a specialized craft that turns men into boys and film critics into optimistic – OK, slightly less cynical – popcorn consumers for the briefest of moments.