Clash of the Titans opens with images of constellations and a voice explaining how stories are written in the stars.
The revelation is both concise and seemingly profound; it marks the end of the movie’s overt poetry.
On the surface, the remainder of Clash of the Titans looks just like any other action movie.
Like an archaeologist dusting ancient ruins, however, audience members can discover that Clash of the Titans is a simple commentary on contemporary American politics.
This movie is itself a sort of bastard child, just like the film’s protagonist, Perseus — born from a mortal woman after Zeus, disguised as the king, seduced her.
And the parentage of this remake is similarly conflicted. With equal ties to both the 1981 blockbuster of the same name from which it is loosely adapted and, of course, classical mythology, Clash of the Titans’ troubles origins are visible in the film.
Sam Worthington plays the demigod Perseus, but his performance is hardly a departure from his recent roles in Avatar and Terminator Salvation.
Worthington walks from here to there (with the occasional flight on a fantastic winged animal) to fight one battle after another.
Of course, he is obliged to make the occasional speech to inspire his companions. However, these little slurs of dialogue have little meaning because Worthington’s words fall on the ears of characters with too little backstory to survive until the movie’s end.
Two of the characters that do have lofty and well-established histories, however, are Zeus and Hades.
Liam Neeson plays the lightning bolt-wielding king of the gods, while Ralph Fiennes adds to his résumé of creepy roles with his portrayal of Hades, the sinister god of the underworld.
Neeson looks cool with his shimmering armor as he lounges atop Mount Olympus, and Fiennes does a fine job at contorting his back and having a generally nasty demeanor.
Unfortunately, these great actors are unable to make their characters interesting.
The two actors fail to convey the drama inherent in any kind of sibling rivalry. Perhaps these acting legends are simply too good, and in their lack of onscreen animosity is actually conveying how two divine brothers might actually interact. Even if that’s the case, however, it means little to a human viewing audience.
Gemma Arterton plays Io, Worthington’s love interest, who has the misfortune of being unable to age.
Her performance feels borrowed from the elven world of the Lord of the Rings franchise, and she is not given nearly enough screen time to do much with her role.
Similarly neglected is an oafish pair of hunters that join Worthington’s war party.
The missed comedic opportunities inherent to these characters represent yet another casualty of the seemingly endless cinematic battles.
Even with these acting problems, the movie is far from being uninteresting.
The story centers on Perseus, wronged and seeking revenge against the gods for the death of his family.
At the beginning of the movie, he denies his demigod status and insists on defeating the gods as a a human.
Eventually, he must come to terms with his special status and use it to his — and mankind’s — advantage.
Of course, this makes the outcomes of Perseus’ many confrontations with a number of monsters quite predictable, including his necessarily epic battle with the biggest, nastiest monster of them all, the Kraken.
His inner struggle is able to sustain the interests of the viewers, who actually have to watch as the sometimes dull skirmishes play out.
Why is Perseus’s inner struggle so compelling? Could there be a message beneath all the computer-generated special effects and inside a screenplay that seems too tired to care about its characters?
The answer is yes. Perseus despises the gods because they demand mankind pay homage to them and, thereby, empower them. In return, the deities bless and aid the weak human beings.
In one of the movie’s more compelling moments, Worthington emphatically claims men do not need to give their love to the gods because they share it with one another.
To empower mankind, Perseus must use the very weapons of the gods to defeat them.
If the situation sounds familiar, it’s most likely because the film is an intentional allegory of contemporary politics. Whether or not audiences choose to buy into the parallel doesn’t need to impact their experience.
In the movie, the powers that be want man’s payment of admiration, while refusing to have an open dialogue with those they supposedly love. Even though they suffer for their selfishness, Perseus cannot defeat them entirely.
Clash of the Titans is not a great movie. But like the stories found in the constellations in the film’s opening frames, a movie’s meaning can sometimes be the result of drawing a line from one dot to the next.
No matter what, Clash of the Titans is fun to look at; however, the viewer will have to work a little to make it anything more than a beautiful skyscape of shimmering light.