Monday, September 6, 2010

God of War IV

When I saw Avatar in the theaters last winter, I was greeted by a number of 3D trailers before the show. The long-awaited James Cameron film had revolutionized what had once been a cheap gimmick for movie theaters into a full-blown mainstream must-have, as seemingly every movie studio has rushed forward with their movie using 3D technology to wow and astound audiences. Already ten films released this year have used 3D technology in their release, from family films like How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After to the much more mature Piranha 3-D, with a dozen more due to be released by year's end. 3D has become for the film industry what the e-book has become for the publishing world: a huge trend for the present with tons of good potential but also the chance to stunt industry growth with shoddy implementation.

Clash of the Titans caught a lot of flak when it was released in April for it's slipshod 3D conversion technology, and was panned by many critics (this seems to be a regular complaint for movies released in both 2D and 3D). In fact, director Louis Leterrier had approached the studio with ideas to make the film in 3D, but at the time it was considered too expensive and the technology too new. It wasn't until after Avatar's success that the studio took real interest in 3D, and pushed Leterrier to convert the film from the filmed 2D version. Despite positive opinions of the technology by the studio, the critics mostly panned the film, the basic agreement being that the film would have been good enough but for poorly-executed 3D and poorly-scripted action sequences, both thrown at the feet of Leterrier. The action scene snafu seems somewhat surprising for the French director who brought us The Transporter, but perhaps his talents in that field didn't quite translate to larger-scale scorpion battles.

Sam Worthington as Perseus
I however did not have that problem. In fact, when I rented the film last week I was quite content with the idea that I would not be seeing the movie in 3D, since I'm not quite convinced of the commercial application of the technology in more than a few different instances anyway. Alice in Wonderland didn't need 3D to be entertaining, and I was sure the same would be true here. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

The story begins with the Greek Gods' disapproval of the rebellion by their creations. Humans, most notably soldiers of the city of Argos, have been desecrating temples and statues of the Gods, on the orders of the king and queen. Naturally, the Gods don't like this. Humans need to be put in their place, and Zeus (Liam Neeson), needing to feel loved by his creations, calls upon his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to put the fear of the Gods in them. Hades does so, demanding Argos sacrifice one who the royal family dared to compare to the goddess Aphrodite, the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), or else face the wrath of the Kraken, a monster created by Hades and used by the Gods to defeat their forefathers, the Titans.

Monsters come in all sizes, and are ripe for killing
The only thing standing in their way? A recently orphaned fisherman who happens to be the illegitimate son of Zeus, named Perseus (Sam Worthington). Worthington's become the next big thing of late, starting with his starring role in last summer's Terminator: Salvation, continuing with Avatar and now headlining his own action movie. That success should continue with a number of movies scheduled for release in the near future, and now he's become the shining star of Australia, though that hardly comes with a guarantee for success (just ask Eric Bana). As the demigod Perseus, Worthington plays the role completely straight, showing a glaring hatred that he focuses on his enemies in this film, whether they be the Gods (whom he blames for the death of his family) or the creatures the Gods sire to put in his way. The journey to defeat the Kraken and Hades takes him on a journey across a world of Tolkienesque scale, facing creatures both familiar and not, against giant scorpions, hideous blind Stygian Witches and of course, the dread gorgon Medusa, who can turn her victims into solid stone statues.

Gemma Arterton as Io
Don't feel too bad for the obstacles thrown in Perseus's path, though, he has his allies. However, his allies are not all of the "good actor" variety. Easily the best performer in the group is Mads Mikkelsen as Draco, leader of Argos's Praetorian Guard. Bond fans may recognize Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, the scarred villain from the recent Casino Royale, and Mikkelsen is quite good in Clash, especially in scenes where he helps train Perseus in his swordplay for the battles ahead. A dark and pessimistic character, Mikkelsen was perfectly cast. Also surprisingly good was Gemma Arterton as Io, a woman cursed by the gods to never age. This curse may not technically be the true curse on Io as postulated in Greek myth, but Arterton is still very good in her role as Perseus's romantic interest (also nowhere in Greek myth), and as the film's muse and guide.

Oh, Ray, why hast thou forsaken us?
It's a shame that those chosen to play the gods couldn't have put together better performances themselves. Neeson is over the top and campy as the golden-armored Zeus, and it's obvious he's not invested in the role here, he's just playing for a paycheck. Better but still not up to his usual quality of performance is Fiennes, who usually has a head for the good movies (Okay, The Avengers was an exception) doesn't put his best work forward here, merely playing a prototypical villain. It's a shame, because these two were the veteran actors that gave the film merit, and their halfhearted work didn't do anyone any good, if you don't take their accountants into consideration.

"Don't look, don't look, don't look, aw crap"
The story itself only loosely bases itself on the actual Greek myths (Translation: it doesn't follow the myths AT ALL) but is still easy to follow, and better if you're ignorant of the massive disparities between the source material and the final product. The story rarely takes a break to ponder itself, not surprising for a Leterrier film, and keeps the brisk pace up straight from beginning to end. It makes for a dumber story, surely, but keeping the focus more on the action than on the story seems to work for this director, I'd be surprised to see anything different.

Everybody loves a good old-fashioned sacrifice
It's just too bad the action element of the tale is so inconsistent. Despite a fabulous sequence depicting the fight between Perseus's merry men and Medusa, most of the  other action scenes are frantic and difficult to follow, with far too much close-up and things moving much too quickly to be followed. The special effects are wonderful, though, especially in the 2D sense. This was never a film that NEEDED 3D for it's effects to work, and seeing the lesser-dimensioned variation suits the graphical art better than forcing it to jump out at the viewer. It's too bad the film couldn't have been augmented by better acting performances, however, as that sort of thing might have taken the film from campy cult hit possibility to an epic tale.

With Clash of the Titans, we have a film that WANTS to be a bigger movie, but just can't seem to pull the trigger. I was able to ignore the mythic irregularities and enjoy the film for what it was, a popcorn film with outstanding special effects that you didn't miss by not seeing it in the theater. It certainly did not crack the 2010 Top 10, but for an action-oriented epic drama it wasn't bad. There are better options out there, to be sure, but this one isn't too big a risk if you'd like something to shut your brain off to.


brian said...

My problem with the movie was that each action scene led directly into the next action scene. The movie never stopped to develop characters. I didn't care about anyone and 3D Calibos didn't hold a candle to Harryhausen's version. And, the Medusa scene didn't make me forget the original Medusa scene, that's for sure. That scene scared me as a kid.

Still, it was sorta fun, I guess.

steve said...

"only loosely bases itself on the actual Greek myths (Translation: it doesn't follow the myths AT ALL)"

Hee. Best line in any review of this movie!

Gianni said...

You're right, Brian, there wasn't a whole lot of time invested in the characters, with the possible exceptions of Perseus, Io and Draco. It's never good that characters are killed off without some sort of emotional investment in them created for the audience.

Having never seen the original Harryhausen, I can't comment on the comparisons between the new and old versions, but for me that just let me judge the film on it's own merits. I'd like to see the original, but I'm in no hurry.