(2010, Fantasy—Sword and Sandal, color)
Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy
This movie is ninety percent releasing things.
In a Nutshell:
Blah, blah, blah, hack! Blah, blah, blah, slash!
An incomprehensible fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) discovers a coffin at sea, containing a dead woman and her still-alive baby. The fisherman calls the baby Perseus and raises him as his own, holding emotional heart-to-heart talks with the growing boy about, uh, you know, things...
Okay, I have no idea what’s going on with Postlethwaite’s normally clear diction, but most of his lines have to be guessed at, and the other half of the conversation—indeed, the rest of the dialog from here on in—doesn’t help much.
Perseus grows up to be Sam Worthington, a dusty, gray, musclebound lump of a man whose line delivery rivals Vin Diesel himself for flatly intoned surliness. Our unflavored wad of hero is out fishing with his family one day when they see soldiers from nearby Argos tearing down a statue of Zeus. Death god Hades (Ralph Fiennes) appears and destroys the soldiers with Furies (i.e. bat-lady monsters). Then, just for kicks, he sinks the fishing boat, drowning all aboard except for Perseus.
Now let’s head to the top of Mount Olympus where, after centuries of randomly slaughtering and occasionally raping his followers, chief god Zeus (Liam Neeson) can’t understand why the mortals don’t love him anymore. Zeus gives his brother Hades special dispensation to occasionally pop out of the underworld and stomp the mortals back into submission.
The surviving Argos soldiers recover Perseus on their way back to their city, dumping him in front of the royal family for some reason. King Kepheus and his wife Cassiopeia are holding a rockin’ party to celebrate their “victory” over the gods. Despite her daughter Andromeda’s remonstrances and pleas to the contrary, Cassiopeia declares Andromeda to be more beautiful than the love goddess Aphrodite. Hades appears, slaughters the remaining soldiers and declares that he will release the Kraken (i.e. gargantuan tentacle monster) to destroy Argos on the next full moon. The only way to avert this is to sacrifice Andromeda to the Kraken. On his way out, he fingers Perseus as one of Zeus’s many bastard sons.
Eager to seize an advantage, Kepheus urges Perseus to take up a quest to slay the Kraken. With the encouragement of the cursed maiden Io and about three seconds of combat training from guard commander Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), Perseus agrees. (Direct quote from my notes: “What, no training montage?”) Perseus and his entourage start searching for someone who knows what they’re supposed to do and how to do it.
The journey is fraught with dangers, the first of which is the angry and disfigured ex-husband of Perseus’s mother. Granted power by Hades, he picks off several of Perseus’s honor guards. Ex-Husband Monster flees when wounded, but his blood turns into giant scorpions. One lengthy giant scorpion fight later, some djinn (i.e. disfigured Arabian sorcerers) arrive to hypnotize and domesticate the scorpions.
There’s a bit here about a poisonous bite and the gift of a magic sword from Zeus that Perseus refuses to accept for some reason, but these don’t have much to do with the plot, so we’ll move on.
Perseus et alia make it to the top of a mountain where they meet a trio of (I’m sensing a pattern here) disfigured old women who share a single disembodied eye between them. Perseus steals their eye and makes them tell him how to kill the Kraken. They tell him to use the head of the gorgon Medusa, and then add that he and all his companions will die. (I think. Like the rest of the bad and ambiguously written dialog in this film, it’s hard to say for sure.)
Determined to prove them wrong, Perseus et alia now head into the underworld via zombie-drawn water chariot to do battle with Medusa, a gorgon (i.e. lady snake monster) whose gaze can turn any living creature to stone. Everyone dies but Perseus, who emerges victorious with a dripping bag of gorgon head. Io meets him outside, but the Cuckolded Ex-Husband of Mom Monster returns to skewer Io and break Perseus’s weapon. Perseus picks up the magic sword he got from Zeus, which I guess is okay to do now that he’s proven his point about... um... Anyway, he smites his corrupted semi-relative. Hades’ taint departs, and the now-repentant ex-husband passes on a bit of meaningless wisdom before he expires. Shortly thereafter, Io expires too, turning into a shimmery white mist.
A black Pegasus arrives to carry Perseus back to Argos, where he loses and recovers his gorgon bag from a gang of Furies, uses the head to turn the Kraken to stone, runs Hades through with his Zeus sword and rescues Andromeda. He refuses her offer to make him king, riding nobly into the sunset on his Pegasus.
Meanwhile, Zeus has figured out that his prior behavior wasn’t making him any friends, and also that his brother was plotting against him. (Did I mention that? Seems like the sort of plot development that ought to be important, but it isn’t.) So Zeus is pretty grateful to Perseus. After a few words of parting with his abandoned bastard child, he brings Io back to life as a thank you gift.
The summary above is probably more detailed than it needs to be. “Blah, blah, blah, monster fight, blah, blah, blah, monster fight” is pretty much all you really need to know, and describes the experience of watching it far better. The CGI is functional and the fight choreography adequate, but everything that makes a movie interesting (plot, characters, dialog) is... Well, I considered the words “perfunctory” and “half-baked”, but such descriptors imply an incomplete effort on the part of the filmmakers, when I really want to imply no effort at all. “Bad” is certainly applicable, if a bit non-specific. I wouldn’t call it “offensive” because making a really rotten, soul-grating movie takes effort as well. “Lazy” comes close, but I don’t think it’s strong enough. Maybe if I use it twice. “Clash of the Titans is a lazy, lazy film.” Yeah, that works.
A few favorite comments: When we’ve spent several minutes trying to penetrate Postlethwaite’s accent, Mike says, “Damn your thick Greek brogue.” When the camera zooms up to the heavenly, cloud-festooned peak of Olympus, Bill says, “Let’s check in with Lando.” After they tame and ride the giant scorpions across the desert, Kevin says, “Action fans love a good, prolonged scorpion-parking scene.” The movie makes no efforts on its own behalf, so the riffers have to do the heavy lifting of keeping things interesting by themselves. Amazingly, they mostly succeed, adding a highly quotable commentary to a deathly boring film.
(2010, Fantasy—Sword and Sandal, color)