I should have known better than to look forward to Clash of the Titans, a film that unironically employs the tagline ‘Titans Will Clash’. I can only assume the same amount of time and energy that went into writing that snappy little pitch was also spent on the film’s script. Now, it’s one thing that the film fails to deliver any interesting characters or any narrative innovations. That’s to be expected. But director Louis Letterier and screenwriters Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (yes, I’m naming names) can’t even deliver on the promise of the film’s title. At no point in this film do titans clash. Spoiler alert, I guess.
Recounting the film’s plot will help no one, but I’m a sucker for tradition. It stars Sam Worthington (who is fast becoming the most inexplicable movie superstar ever) as Perseus, a demi-God living among the mortals. You see, in this universe, there are actual Gods who watch over our every move. Zeus (Liam Neeson), the father of all men, is powered by the prayers and adoration of his children. When the people begin to curse Zeus for not providing them with wealth (or whatever), he gets a little testy. He employs his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to teach his minions a lesson: worship the Gods or get ready for a smackdown, Old Testament style.
So let’s stop for a second and work this out. I have no problem with the fantasy of several Gods literally sitting atop the clouds and watching everything we do. Hey, for all I know, that is actually going on. But here is my problem: In a universe where the existence of Gods is fact, and the open cursing of one leads to instant violent retaliation of horrifying proportions, why would anyone curse them? If I were a fisherman, and there had been a shortage of fish, I would probably want to question the Gods about their seeming desire to make my life miserable too. But if I knew that that question would lead to my instant electrocution and death, I would probably keep stumm.
Anyway, Hades kills a bunch of people, Perseus’ family included. Following much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Perseus teams up with a bunch of other poorly defined characters (I think they were soldiers) to stop the Gods from unleashing the most horrifying beast imaginable – the Kraken – upon the rest of the heathens. Yes, Zeus himself, the jilted ex-lover of man, specifically instructs Hades to unleash said Kraken. So this is a story in which God is willing to scare people into praying to him, instead of letting his creations enjoy the free will which he originally bestowed. Therefore, can we assume that Clash of the Titans is an atheist manifesto, painting God (of whichever denomination) as some spurned cuckold out for revenge? Does the film encourage men and women to free themselves from the shackles of organised religion to live out their mortal existence feeling empowered? Well, no, because this film isn’t about anything.
Sure, I can rattle off the film’s plot and list the famous characters from Greek mythology that feature in it. But it’s all for naught. This picture has no weight. There are themes, I think, but they’re muddled and incomprehensible. There are certainly no characters. Sam Worthington, perhaps also betrayed by a weak script, does nothing but glare. His battle speeches are neither rousing nor particularly intelligible. Ralph Fiennes simply trots out his Voldemort shtick for Hades (although he employs a nice Batman-rasp) and Liam Neeson, ideal casting for Zeus, is also confused as to what the motives of his character are supposed to be. Even a film like 300 – which prioritised character development behind slow motion decapitations and rampant homoeroticism – even that film had some characters to grab onto. Clash of the Titans can’t even muster that much, assuming that famous names such as Hades or Andromeda or Perseus inform the audience enough about who these characters are and what they want. Well they don’t. And now you have a bunch of motiveless characters with stupid names. When they die (and many characters do), it’s difficult to care.
I asked whether Clash of the Titans is an atheist manifesto, but how can any film that openly accepts the existence of Gods be atheist? Yes, I know, this is a dumb action fantasy. But dammit, I’ll read into things as deeply as I please. And frankly, considering the lack of action sequences to distract me, I had to find something to keep me awake. I was left grasping at the multiple theological conundrums posed (and almost immediately dropped) by the film. I can only conclude that the film is completely unaware of the gravity (and bottomless potential) of exploring these subjects. Instead, Clash of the Titans is the cinematic equivalent of a fart. It’s loud, it stinks, it’s completely devoid of substance and thanks to the wonders of 3D, it is actively, physically annoying.