Being the human son of Zeus is no picnic. Want proof? Just ask Perseus.
Because the king of the gods mischievously dallied with his unsuspecting mortal mother, Perseus starts life as an outcast. Mother and baby are sealed in a coffin-like funeral barge and set adrift on the sea to die. Fortunately, the infant's half-god side helps him survive long enough to be rescued by a kind passing fisherman who adopts Perseus, loves him and raises him as his own.
But then, tragedy strikes again: Perseus has to watch as his adopted family is murdered by Hades, lord of the underworld, when Zeus and Co. decide that the island people of Argos have failed to show the gods proper respect. To top things off, when the humans that Perseus lives among discover that he (now in his 20s) is actually a demigod himself, they want to take their myriad frustrations with the gods out on him.
But Perseus doesn't complain.
Instead, when Hades demands the sacrifice of Argos' lovely princess, Andromeda, Perseus volunteers to face the threat head on. He recruits a hodgepodge force of staunch fighters and an ageless female guardian named Io. Together they battle their way past giant scorpions, gruesome witches and a deformed monster—among other things.
The hero's plan? Well, once they breach the gates of the underworld, they simply have to behead the snake-haired Medusa, save the princess from a 200-foot-tall monstrosity called the Kraken and defeat the god of the underworld himself.
It's all in a demigod's day's work.
The bonds between Perseus and his adoptive family are strong. The old fisherman tells his son, "The love we have for you is the thing that gods and kings fight over." And later, when asked about his plans, Perseus gestures toward his loved ones and states, "I have everything I need, right here."
Self-sacrifice is at the heart of Perseus' journey. When his family is killed by Hades, Perseus initially sets his heart on vengeance. But with time, and in light of the bravery displayed by his fellow soldiers, his rage is transformed into a redemptive desire to save humanity. And when Zeus offers Perseus sanctuary, he tells the god—who is his biological father, after all—"I'd rather die in the mud with these men than live as a god!" No surprise, then, that those battling beside Perseus willingly put their lives on the line for him and for each other.
Although the king and queen of Argos are self-centered and vain, princess Andromeda is not. When soldiers return from battle, she ministers to their needs. She also takes bread to the hungry amid the citywide upheaval. When Andromeda hears Hades' demand that she be sacrificed to appease the capricious gods and save Argos, she readily agrees to give her life for her people.
Much of the movie revolves around spiritual-themed intrigue and the conflict between the Greek gods and the humans they often treat badly. We see these deities in their heavenly, mountain-top court of Olympus. And we watch the power struggle between Zeus and his brother Hades, who has been relegated to ruling the dark underworld of the dead.
It's said that Zeus created humanity and that the gods maintain their power through those mortals' prayers. So when the people of Argos begin to offer more criticism than supplication, it's a problem that must be dealt with. Humanity's rebellion cannot be tolerated because it's a threat to the gods' reign. And so Zeus agrees to Hades' plan of unleashing torment on humanity to "remind them of the order of things" and "turn them back into our arms." After all, there's nothing like unremitting tragedy to force frail humans back into a posture of humility, dependence and petition, right?
Magic and terrible curses play a huge role in the tale. For instance, the female guardian Io says that she once refused the sexual advances of a god, and he responded to her by cursing her with agelessness. Similarly, Medusa is said to have once been a beautiful woman who fell victim to a curse by the goddess Athena that turned her into a twisted half-woman, half-snake. And the Kraken? He was apparently animated out of a chunk of Hades' own flesh. As for life and death, the gods also have some authority over that, too, as Zeus resurrects a dead woman.
Though many of the gods prove to be selfish, petty and cruel, Persesus' adoptive mother nevertheless espouses a thankful attitude, saying, "The gods gave us life. For that we must be thankful."
To punish a rebellious king, Zeus transforms into a doppelgänger of the man and beds his wife. (We see their bare shoulders after the fact.) Io tells a story of a human Medusa being forcibly "taken" by Poseidon. Io wears a dress that exposes one shoulder and reveals quite a bit of leg during battle. Medusa wears a bikini-style top.
Though mostly bloodless, the titanic action of Clash nevertheless involves a constant barrage of swordplay and worse. Soldiers battle giant scorpions that impale and hurl folks about with their oversized tails and claws. Medusa transforms men into stone statues with her gaze, crushing one with her snake tail and shooting another through the chest with an arrow. When she's eventually killed, we see the headless stump of her neck before she falls into a fiery lake.
The monster Calibos slashes and kills several men, and in one quick scene it appears to rip an unfortunate victim in half. A warrior cuts Calibos' hand off, after which the appendage crawls about and grows into a giant scorpion. In fact, the monster's dismemberment is the main exception to the film's "mostly bloodless" norm. As its arm bleeds, the dark liquid gives birth to lice-like insects. Calibos also bites Perseus' arm, leaving gruesome-looking teeth marks in the man's flesh.
Gods and monsters also wreak destruction on a bigger scale. Zeus unleashes lightning blasts from the heavens, and Hades transforms into a swarm of giant bat-winged demons that tear into crowds of humans. Hades magically morphs into a swirling black whirlwind that sucks dozens of men to their deaths. And when this god of the underworld touches the face of the queen of Argos, she withers into an emaciated husk. Finally, the dreaded Kraken flails about with his enormous tentacles and claws, demolishing buildings, courtyards and crowds.
In a comingsoon.net interview, Clash of the Titans screenwriter Phil Hay said that the writing team's goal for this new version of the story was to make a "fun adventure movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, but within itself, takes everything seriously." And that's a pretty accurate representation of what ended up on the big screen.
The remake doesn't take many cues from the 1981 original that featured stop-motion magic from special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. Instead, this reboot has been given a thorough facelift. The first flick's camp factor has been tamped down—Bubo the owl gets only a brief nod—while its new-millennium CGI has been buffed to a polished sheen. The result is an old-fashioned, sword-and-sandals matinee adorned with the latest in big-budget bells and whistles.
Along with that injection of special effects, however, comes a Olympic-sized load of digitized violence. There may not be gallons of fake blood, but there is no shortage of death in just about any way you might imagine. Stabbings and slashings, impalings and dismemberment are but a few of the violent ends men and monsters meet. It all adds up to 118 minutes of bombastic Mt. Olympus posturing and man-vs.-god fist-shaking.
And it's that latter conflict that ends up being Clash of the Titans' Achilles' heel, I think.
The mythological power struggles between sibling gods Zeus and Hades are little more than dramatic fodder for this whiz-bang actioner. So I'm really not worried about people suddenly deciding they want to rethink Zeus' religious relevance—an unlikely outcome given that capricious god's character. That said, I am aware of how the film could conceivably reinforce wrong notions about the God of the Bible in viewers who believe He's somehow akin to these dysfunctional deities. He's not, of course. But just like Perseus and his beleaguered human friends, we here in the real world must labor at times to make sense of inexplicable tragedies. And it can be tempting to toy with the idea that maybe God has it in for us … as is the case with the false gods on display here.
Add in heaping helpings of witchy prophesies, ancient curses and black magic, and you've got a Kraken-sized spiritual counterfeit posing as a cinematic confection.