Films | Sunday, 25 April 2010

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The gods are laughing

Don’t get me wrong… I like the fact that genre films have been given an intellectual leg up as of late. ‘The Dark Knight’ (to take the most representative exampl of this recent phenomenon), was a refreshingly heady experience, offering all the thrills one expects from a Batman film but bolstered with a ‘Heat’-like cat-and-mouse-chase-with-psychological-gravitas, as dearly departed Heath Ledger gave us a Joker truly worthy of a dramatic parting salvo: far more than a cookie-cutter comedy villian, director Christopher Nolan shaped the Joker into an archetypal representation of chaos. Not only was his scary in his terrorist’s glee, but his relationship with Christian Bale’s Batman suggested something else… something far more universal.
And neither does the culture of remakes (depressing as it essentially is) have to automatically augur grittiness, as it was the case, appropriately enough, with Batman: J.J. Abrams’ revamping of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise wiped the turgid series clean of any heavy-handed political subtext and creaky costuming, sexing up the space saga with a fresh-faced cast operating on the energy of the recent boom in television (significantly, Abrams is the brain behind the mega-hit ‘Lost’).
We all seem to want to have the cake and eat it too: none of us wants to give up our heroes, but now that we’re all grown up and overeducated on pop-culture thanks to the internet and the aforementioned spike in TV standards, we’re left hungry for something that pretends to push the envelope, just as long as it isn’t pushed to unrecognisable, indigestible levels.
Louis Leterrier’s remake of the 1981 ‘mythsploitation’ film (if I may invent a genre) ‘Clash of the Titans’ could be seen as the perfect case study for the progression of mainstream action blockbusters from cheesy camp to edgy cheese. The original (as inexplicably stuffed with upper-crust Brit actors who really should know better as this new one is), took the Perseus myth and morphed it into a swashbuckling adventure, with our hero thrown in the midst of a game of celestial chess between the Olympians. But the new version is all rage and revolutionary ire, with the gods occupying a curiously modern role: rendered sulky by a decreasing number of followers, they decide to show the humans who’s boss.
Perseus (Aussie meathead du jour Sam Worthington, of ‘Avatar’ fame) – raised as a fisherman, but actually the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) – decides to take on the Olympian gods following the death of his family at the hands of Zeus’ brother Hades (Joseph Fiennes). Perseus is hell-bent on taking his revenge against the lord of the underworld, but his destiny is to rescue the city of Argos from the ruthless rage of Hades and his Kraken monster. To accomplish this, he needs to pay a visit to a certain Gorgon with an unfortunate hairstyle. With nothing to lose, Perseus leads a band of soldiers on a quest to defeat the Kraken.
Having re-watched the original recently, I can testify to its generally laughable take of the original myths, as well as its badly-dating effects. However its naïve charm is undeniable and its faults have been alchemised into endearing features thanks to the veneer of nostalgia. The remake obviously does not have this advantage, and Leterrier and co. do very little to make up for this fact. Worthington is utterly boring as Perseus, not even bothering to change hairstyle from ‘Avatar’… and putting in even less of an effort in his performance, as he retains his native Australian accent throughout, which jars with the dull but consistent RP of the rest of the cast. A lack of energy and innovation – so crucial for a remake – is generally absent: new twists on the already suspect plot are thrown in at random, as are characters… Gemma Arerton’s Io effectively replaces Andromeda’s (Alexa Davalos) role as love interest, the latter completely reduced to damsel in distress. And while the effects and creature sequences are enjoyable in their own right, the overall laziness of the plot’s execution renders the overall experience ultimately unsatisfying.
Given our age of zesty takes on established products, Leterrier should have known to try that little bit harder.

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