What would you do if you defied Zeus, the king of all gods, only to have him disguise as you and impregnate your Queen? King Calibos responds by putting his wife and the
resulted baby into a coffin and sending them off to sea to die. Take that, Zeus. Or maybe not.
Twenty-something years later, and the baby has grown into a man. Or rather, a demigod named Perseus, the hero of this spring's Greek mythological Clash of the Titans. Rescued from the sea by a loving fisherman who raises him as his own son, Perseus is unaware of his divine origins and is happy with his life catching fish with his adopted father, mother, and sister. But then tragedy strikes at the hand of Hades, god of the underworld. Apparently the city of Argos has been defiant towards the gods, and Hades inflicts punishment on a group of rebels, which includes Perseus' innocent family, who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perseus is devastated.
He is taken to the city of Argos, where King Cepherus and Queen Cassiopeia insult the gods by comparing their daughter, Andromeda, to the beauty of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. Hades, the god of the underworld (who was tricked into such a dismal job by Zeus), appears and tells them their defiance has gone too far. Either Andromeda must be sacrificed within ten days, or the mighty Kraken will be released to destroy Argos. Hades convinces Zeus to agree to the plan in order to punish mankind for their lack of love.
Seeking revenge on Hades, and furious with the gods for their mistreatment, Perseus agrees to lead a team of men on a quest to stop the Kraken. Considering the Kraken is a 200-foot leviathan of the deep, the pet of Hades, and is given approval by Zeus to destroy Argos, the journey is not an easy one. Let the Clash begin.
Sam Worthington doesn't need much more than his tough-guy grimace and muscular body for the role of Perseus. We sympathize with his character early in the film, and from there he doesn't need much development. He is our eyes, so to speak; the classic "normal guy thrown into a leadership role" through whom we witness the new wonders of this mythological world. Yet despite his humble beginnings, Perseus does not need to grow very much as a leader or warrior. Being half-god, it comes naturally. One would think this might make a boring storyline, but it is actually quite the contrary. We don't care about seeing Perseus having to grow from boy to man, or fisherman to warrior, as is common in such tales. We want to see him fight the Greek monsters and save Argos, and a story based around his development would only be a distraction. It's a well-played move.
Zeus is portrayed by the ever-consistent Liam Neeson; really, who else could play the kingly divinity better than Neeson? Yeah, I can't think of anyone, either. I was expecting a mighty, white-haired Zeus sitting on a giant throne, but he is more fleshed out and susceptible to problems. This provides a fresh spin on the role of Zeus that allows you to feel like you're experiencing a new character rather than viewing a stereotype of a well-known figure.
Hades, Zeus' brother and the god of the underworld, is brought to eerie life by Ralph Fiennes. Again, the character is not what I expected. Instead of the big, bad leader of hell, Hades seems more like a down-on-his-luck, mopey younger brother who lost his voice. Oh yeah, and plans on taking over Zeus' throne.
The rest of the cast is well-acted by primarily unknowns, but each play their role well. From the proud King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, stirring the wrath of the gods, to the beautiful Io who serves as a love interest for Perseus, to the equally beautiful and kind-hearted Princess Andromeda who is willing to sacrifice her life to the Kraken to save the people of Argos, and to King Calibos, now a deformed warrior servant of Hades seeking revenge on both Perseus and Zeus. The remaining characters are mostly expendables for the battle scenes who provide support for Perseus through the journey. Hey, someone's gotta' do it, right?
An area done well is the comic relief, which is enough to earn a chuckle or two but does not go over the top. Nothing ruins an epic movie like attempted humor gone bad; such a tragedy is averted here.
Another cliche the film avoids (and one commonly found in epic movies) is corny dialogue or any ridiculous attempts to be heroic. Some movies seem to think if you give a man a sword and a British accent, and a few cheesy lines about fighting for freedom, the result will be a grand movie. Wrong. Fortunately, Clash of the Titans does a good job of avoiding these factors, even though the men do have swords, British accents, and go around uttering heroic bits of wit and wisdom. The difference? Titans does it well enough to be effective, but doesn't try so hard to the point that it feels forced or overworked.
We are given some thrilling battles, and many lives are lost, yet the film refrains from gore. Even when characters are stabbed or impaled, the scenes are mostly bloodless. Profanity is kept to a minimum, with only one use each of "h???," "d??n," "b??ch" and "b??tard." The Greek gods were known for their lustful encounters with human women, and several accounts are mentioned (though we are spared any graphic details). The affair between Zeus and Perseus' mother is shown in a flashback and we see their bare shoulders before and after the incident, but nothing else.
The movie itself is fun and captivating. The mythological world springs to life through decorated sets, costumes, and creatures; from giant scorpions and the evil Medusa, to the winged-horse Pegasus and the monstrous Kraken. There are only several bits that are obviously computer animated (namely several shots of Medusa), but all you have to do is watch the stop-motion clay effects of the 1981 original version, and I can guarantee any complaints will cease. The pace and scale of the film are reminiscent of classic sword and sandal epics, but taken to a modern level. Some scenes, especially the suspenseful showdown in Medusa's lair or the final battle with the Kraken at Argos, are straight-out fun to watch. I felt exhilarated just watching Perseus fly through the air on the winged Pegasus; I nearly made sure my hair wasn't messed up from such a wild ride.
Perhaps the biggest turn-off to many Christians will be the philosophy cloaked in the mythology. The divinities in this tale are selfish, power-hungry deities whom man is able to challenge and defy. One must take into consideration that this is simply part of Greek mythology. The filmmakers are not trying to undermine the authority or goodness of God, but are rather portraying the gods as they are known in Greek mythology: always battling and manipulating each other, and being defeated by the next great champion. According to Greek legend, even the gods themselves came to power by defeating the Titans, who themselves rose to power by defeating their father.
Despite the laments of Perseus' adopted father that the gods are unfair and that, "Someday, someone's gonna' have to make a stand", his adopted mother reminds him that the gods created them and for that they deserve thanks and worship. But when his family is killed at the hands of a god, Perseus defies the gods every chance he gets. He even says to Zeus, who offers him sanctuary, "I'd rather die in the mud with these men than live as a god!" On another occasion, it is stated that, "A new era has begun, the era of man. … We are the gods now."
One could easily use these grounds to accuse the film of incorporating secular humanism. But in realistic terms, this is the only way to tell a good story while staying accurate to Greek mythology. Let's be honest: could we really view Zeus in a noble light, no matter how divine he is, when Perseus' very existence is a result of Zeus' practical rape of a human woman? In mythology, the gods were power-hungry and did whatever they wanted, and man often suffered the result. If this was truly the way gods acted, it is understandably evident why man would be so defiant.
Instead of feeling offended or jumping to assume that the filmmakers were trying to insult religion, I came under two different emotions:
#1. I felt entertained, because this was, after all, a story. It is not a story such as The Da Vinci Code, where Christ or the Bible are directly challenged. It is a fantasy world, and fantasy mythology. It is not to be taken seriously. It tells the tale of standing up for what is right, even if you have to stand up against a great power. Fortunately as Christians, we need not worry that standing up for what's right will ever bring us to odds with God, because by following Him we serve the most pure and good power there is.
#2. I felt grateful that in the real world, outside the realm of ancient Greek stories, we do serve a truly good God who is nothing like the flawed gods of Titans. Although Zeus is wise and powerful, he is prone to imperfection and the threat that his throne will be conquered by Hades. The God of Scripture, however, will throw "death and Hades. . .into the lake of fire" (just an ironic play on the word Hades there). Perseus' adopted father is a better picture of God than Zeus; God is not our Father because of an immoral conception with another man's wife, but because He found us helpless and dying and took us as His own.
To Zeus' credit, he genuinely loves his son, providing him with a magical sword along the journey and offering him sanctuary and safety. And Perseus, despite his defiance and distrust, draws closer to his father by the film's end. The gods are flawed, yes, but we are given hope for a new era where gods and men once again live in peace with one another.
As long as you are sound in these matters concerning the goodness and authority of the real God, Clash of the Titans is an excellent piece of entertainment. The movie is large and grand, with exciting fights and tales of heroism, while remaining mostly bloodless and keeping a low profanity count. I went into the theater with high expectations for a rousing, epic movie, and did not leave disappointed.
© Copyright 2016 Mark Narankevicius. All rights reserved.