Half-man, half-god Perseus (Worthington) is raised by kindly fisher folk, but when they are killed by Hades (Fiennes) - collateral damage in the war between men and gods - he sets forth on a perilous revenge quest to find his destiny, rescue a princess and resolve his issues with his father Zeus (Neeson), king of the gods.
The ancient Greeks not only told great tales that explored the human psyche through epic adventures, they did something unprecedented in human civilization up to that point. They created their gods in man’s image. Thus the gods on Mount Olympus are a fallible and emotional lot, given to passionate outbursts, horrid tantrums, unpredictable fits of compassion and lusty urges that will not be denied.
Perseus is the result of one of Zeus’ impulsive assaults on an innocent mortal woman, which gets her executed by her enraged husband King Acrisius (Jason Flemyng, who reappears slathered in prosthetics as a relentless mutant killer henchman of Hades) and almost does for baby Perseus except Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern fish him out of the Aegean and adopt him. A swift passage of years and he’s bulked up into Sam Worthington, sporting a buzz cut and looking more like a US Marine than a Greek seaman.
Circumstances force him to Argos, where the decadent populace have turned their backs on the gods, provoking the wrath of the Olympians and inspiring resentful king of the Underworld Hades to plot the overthrow of his brother Zeus while they are distracted by wiping out mortals.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, Perseus then girds his loins and sets off with a platoon of Argosians who range from salty veterans (Mads Mikkelsen, Liam Cunningham) to Hans Matheson and a delicate youth (Nicholas Hoult). But they are almost indistinguishable since they all have cornrow extensions and a lot of facial hair. Costume designer Lindy Hemming was instructed not to show too much leg between their leather mini-skirts and their sandal boots, darn it, but at least they’ve been kitted out with those ab-sculpted breastplates that make them all look ripped. They have to find three obnoxious hags called the Stygian Witches so Perseus can get the answer to a Big Question, cross into the Underworld to kill the gorgon Medusa (Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova with snake dreadlocks and looks that kill), tote her head back to Argos and surprise Hades’ ravenous monster of the deep, the Kraken, with it. That’s the idea anyway, but numbers dwindle alarmingly and in the wrong order, with the prettiest warriors mercilessly dispatched, and most of them so abruptly you are never sure who that was that just toppled into a fiery abyss or shattered into pieces. En route they battle icky giant scorpion things and hook up with nomadic guys who look like tree trunks with glowing blue eyes and ride the desert monsters. That bit is like Dune, and not in a good way.
Two things stand-out. The first is Fiennes’s hugely fun turn as a hunchbacked, raspy-voiced, bitter, twisted Hades who turns up in a fireball and a smoking cloak to wreak a spot of havoc, instill terror, make dire pronouncements and such. The on-screen reunion of Neeson and Fiennes echoes their Schindler’s List dynamic, Zeus being all handsome and kind of noble, and Hades all full-tilt nutso. Also good is fragrant Gemma Arterton’s demi-goddess Io being attached to the travelling band of warriors since she serves as a quite useful Voice of Exposition, explaining all sorts of otherwise baffling stuff.
It will have become apparent to devotees of the 1981 Clash Of The Titans, which was not very good either but is fondly remembered, that the plot in this is quite different. Even those who prefer the manlier Worthington to Harry Hamlin (so dreamy in his shorty toga) will regret the sidelining here of the Olympians, who ought to manipulate mankind like pieces on a game board but are relegated to fleeting extras. What was the point of casting Danny Huston as Poseidon, for instance, then disposing of him after one line? Despite a rather good, gnarly skeletal River Styx ferryman, the effects don’t come close to the charm of Ray Harryhausen’s creations. Bubo, Harryhausen’s mechanical owl, makes a brief cameo by way of homage, but the most magical element in a generally lunkheaded outing is winged Pegasus, the flying horse and his herd achieved beautifully.
As for the 3-D, it’s a non-event, the film having been shot normally and twiddled in post to ride the Avatar wave. It’s effective in a few bits (you can almost smell the Kraken's breath), but if you take the glasses off it doesn’t make a lot of difference most of the time.
Poorly written nonsense, but lovers of beefcake action will be happy enough with the heroes gymnastically vaulting monsters and slicing and dicing their way around the ancient world. An extra star for Ralph Fiennes, who is a god.