Clash of the Titans (2010): goofy remake adapted to modern audiences’ tastes

Louis Leterrier, “Clash of the Titans” (2010)

A brisk and goofy remake of the original Ray Harryhausen film of the same name, and trashing much of Greek mythology along the way, this “Clash …” at least has plausible themes that sustain it all the way through the flat characterisation, the overdone fighting and monster-thrashing scenes, and the ho-hum rivalries in its (very much so) loose interpretation of the tale of Perseus. In the original story, King Acrisius of Argos imprisons his daughter Danae because of a prophecy that a son of hers (his grandson) will kill him. Danae ends up becoming pregnant by Zeus anyway so Acrisius banishes her and her newborn son Perseus in a wooden chest set afloat on the open sea. The chest washes ashore on the island of Seriphos and Perseus and his mum are taken in by fisherman Dictys. The king of the island, Polydectes, lusts after Danae and plots to send away Perseus when the youngster is full grown. When Polydectes organises a banquet, all the invited guests must bring gifts; Perseus rashly asks what gift he is to bring and Polydectes asks for the head of the Gorgon known as Medusa.

From there, with the help of the goddess Athena, Perseus has to find the weapons to defeat Medusa, whose glance can turn all living things into stone. He gets information from three witches to find the location of the Hesperides who then provide him with a special bag to hold Medusa’s head; he collects a shield, a helmet that makes him invisible, winged sandals and a sword from the Olympian gods. With the weapons and the information given him, Perseus successfully bags his quarry and prepares to return to Polydectes. On the way back, he stops at the kingdom of Aethopia, where a sea monster Cetus has been menacing the locals and an oracle has foretold that the sacrifice of Princess Andromeda will appease the beast so the hapless girl has been chained to a rock facing the ocean. Perseus finds Medusa’s head useful in stopping Cetus literally dead in its tracks and rescues Andromeda. Perseus marries Andromeda and the newlyweds journey back to Seriphos where Perseus dishes out the same treatment to Polydectes that he did to Cetus.

Eventually the original prophecy that led to Perseus and Danae’s banishment from Argos is fulfilled, though different versions of the Perseus story have Acrisius dying in different ways, including being killed the same way Cetus and Polydectes died. The point of all these various events over the passage of decades is to illustrate that, no matter how much you try to avoid or cheat Fate, it has a way of catching up with you. The more you scheme, the more likely you will end up the victim of your own schemes.

In the 2010 retelling, Perseus and Danae are banished because King Acrisius (who becomes Danae’s husband) discovers she has been impregnated by Zeus impersonating Acrisius. Danae dies in the wooden chest but the baby Perseus is found alive by a fisherman and his wife. The couple bring him up as their own son and Perseus grows to manhood. One day Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his family on their fishing vessel see soldiers in Argos destroying the statue of Zeus (Liam Neeson); the Furies then attack the soldiers and during the fight, Hades destroys the fishing vessel and Perseus’s adoptive family drowns. Perseus is taken captive by the Argos soldiers and brought before King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia who are leading a rebellion against the Olympian gods. Cassiopeia dares to compare her daughter Andromeda’s beauty to that of Aphrodite and she is punished by Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades threatens to send the Kraken – a sea monster child of his – against Argos unless Andromeda is offered as a sacrifice to it. Hades exposes Perseus as a son of Zeus and a mysterious woman, Io (Gemma Arterton), turns up and confirms to Perseus that Hades is right.

Perseus and Io then accompany King Cepheus’s royal guard to find the Stygian Witches who can advise them on how to defeat the Kraken and save Andromeda. On their way, they are attacked by a lone King Acrisius, corrupted by Hades into the monster Calibos, and whose blood, when it falls into soil, grows into giant scorpions which promptly attack the soldiers. The group is rescued by djinn who treat Perseus’s wound and tame the remaining scorpions which then take them, soldiers and djinn, to the Stygian Witches. The witches are forced to tell them that they need Medusa’s head to defeat the Kraken. Accordingly the group continues to the Underworld, where Medusa slays the soldiers but is defeated by Perseus. With an extra piece of hand luggage, Perseus leaves the Underworld but up pops Acrisius / Calibos who kills Io. Perseus kills Acrisius / Calibos with a sword given him by Zeus, and Acrisius is finally released from Hades’s control. Perseus journeys back to Argos with the help of Pegasus, a winged horse, to discover that the Kraken is already wrecking the place thanks to Hades having tricked Zeus into releasing it from the briny depths.

Why the script-writers added djinn and a Kraken to a Greek myth, even one loosely interpreted and retold for a modern audience, seems odd given that Greek mythology is not short of giant sea monsters, bloodthirsty critters springing from unlikely sources like blood and teeth or humanoid beings at once sinister yet helpful. It may be that the change of focus from Perseus slaying Medusa to Perseus slaying the Kraken, with the killing of Medusa becoming a sub-plot as a result, and how that change affects the entire story along with all the other hidden messages deemed suitable for early 21st-century Western audiences, necessitated having to bring in familiar monsters from other mythologies rather than delving deeper into Greek myth to find and resurrect some obscure oddity that might have been already hacked at by another of Zeus’s offspring. Every opportunity for adventure and action, fighting and bloodshed, and of course loads of computer-generated action however is seized on and exploited to the full. The fight with Medusa is of course thrilling and hair-raising as the soldiers and Perseus must try to save themselves from falling into magma while being chased all over the joint by an angry owner whose looks literally kill. The coming of the Kraken is yet more opportunity for lashing waves, buildings being toppled over and panicking crowds of people being trampled into the dust. Amidst the action, the actors – many of them fine English actors looking to pick up easy money through slumming in a Hollywood action flick – do their best not to blend too much into the background. Worthington does his best to keep a straight face and concentrate on letting his fists do the talking as a down-to-earth Perseus who, though acknowledging his hybrid demigod nature, chooses to live as an ordinary working-class human among farmers, fisherfolk and the artisan class instead of joining Zeus in lazy Olympian splendour.

The action plays against a context of human rebellion against despotic Olympian rulership which of course sets in motion the journey that makes a man of Perseus and which also raises the King’s soldiers, led by Draco (Mads Mikkelson), to their own heights of glory through comradeship and self-sacrifice as they fall to Medusa’s gaze or fury. Through the minefield of joining the rebellion or submitting to Zeus (through sacrifice) or to Hades (through fear), Perseus chooses and treads his own path, earning glory and the respect of others in that way, yet remaining humble and modest about his achievements. A story about the finality of Fate and how humans can never defy the gods becomes a story about being able to determine one’s own destiny and discover freedom in spite of the gods’ eternal rivalry and Hades’s dislike of Zeus’s semi-divine offspring. The unexpected open-ended conclusion to the film sets up a narrative lead into a sequel film with even more action and violence, and perhaps into a profitable movie franchise.