The James Clayton Column: The Gods get ingratitude but Perseus fixed the plumbing
After watching Clash Of The Titans, James becomes convinced that Sam Worthington is the perfect man to fix the plumbing...
If, in some warped world where film actors come to do same-day, reasonably priced household repairs, my sink started leaking, I’d like Sam Worthington to stop by and sort out my plumbing. He’s the kind of man you need in a clinch.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I like Worthington, though not in the ways that I like Jackie Chan or Penélope Cruz. Rather, I like the way he stands solid as a no bullshit male lead, a little like, say, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis or Russell Crowe.
Eventually, we’ll probably see Worthington seeking more complex, rangey roles, but for the moment I’m enjoying seeing him in visually-orientated action cinema. He’s game on for blockbuster spectacle, and I’m just happy to watch him battle giant scorpions.
He’s got that whole Aussie down-to-earth attitude going and always keeps his cool. Add the ex-bricklayer’s backstory of selling his possessions and living in his car before the big roles came, and he’s even more of an appealing figure. This is the kind of understated everyman that you want fronting your action flicks or fixing up your house. If your kitchen was going the way of The Poseidon Adventure, how reassuring would it be to turn around and find Worthington there wielding a wrench?
I can’t picture the person who played Perseus in Clash Of The Titans and Jake Sully in Avatar pulling some conman cowboy builder stunt. The job would be done without crap jokes and bad body odour and then he’d be off into the sunset on the back of a black-winged horse. Simple as. No worries.
Worthington operated as a masculine everyman against the machines in Terminator: Salvation and represented the masculine everyman against militant exploitative capitalism in Avatar. Now, as Perseus in Clash Of The Titans, he gets the same role, albeit opposing the ancient Greek gods.
Ultimately, he’s the perfect representative to stand against the powers of Olympus. To overcome the divine overlords, with all their incredible facial hair and thespian prowess, you need a grounded, clean-shaven guy with gritty determination.
Picking apart the Clash Of The Titans remake, Perseus is fine. I don’t keep picturing Harry Hamlin or hoping that a Harryhausen monster will come and swallow him. My issue is that, whereas the hero has reason to rage at the gods (they killed his parents and abandoned the demigod as a baby), all the other humans in Louis Leterrier’s new movie are clutching at straws.
They spend the entire film – at least the moments when they’re not fleeing from monsters – muttering curses, whining about how hard things are or complaining about the deities. The humans of Clash Of The Titans seem incredibly hard to please. They get travel, adventure and exclusive access to all kinds of outlandish experiences and odd creatures and yet they bitch and moan about how Mount Olympus hates them.
For example, see how Pete Postlethwaite (Perseus’ dad) blames his poor catch on Zeus and his godly gang. How about casting your net in fresher waters? Could it be that you’re a bad fisherman? Why should Poseidon bless Pete Postlethwaite with boatfuls of tuna?
Another example would be the put-downs and powertripping of Queen Cassiopeia, with her arrogant, ironic declaration about the arrival of ‘the Age of Man’. It’s like if Zeus and his divine brood aren’t patting you on the back and bestowing rainbows and moonbeams on every waking moment, then they’re utterly indifferent bastards who only deserve scorn.
All the griping at the supernaturals reminds me of the ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ debate in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Admittedly, the evidence on offer in Clash Of The Titans suggests that all the gods have ever given humanity are oversized statues, rape and an abundance of facial hair. There’s no sign of any sanitation or public baths or anything like that. Even if they had provided such things to ancient Greece, chances are they’d be faulty and thus require someone like Perseus – played by Sam Worthington – to put the plumbing right.
It’s bread and circuses and, erm, public baths. The people are convinced they’re suffering a Greek tragedy because they have a hard life and figure, hey, take it all out on the Olympians. Egos bruised and insulted by ingratitude, the emotionally shallow yet shiny-suited gods do what’s natural to them – stroke their beards menacingly and strike down with wrath.
Poor Hades (“I just want people to love me!”), Zeus (“I just want people to keep on loving me!”) and Poseidon (“I just want more than three lines!”). I can’t help but have sympathy for the ones who are acting as scapegoats and an easy target for criticism in the turbulent ancient world, even if they are big, self-obsessed bearded babies.
With the gods feeling aggrieved and unleashing sea monsters, lightning bolts and black wings of death, the people simply get angrier. It’s a vicious cycle of antagonism that offers some excellent opportunities for cinematic set-pieces, but in the long term can’t be good for the planet.
Enter Perseus, the empowered iconic individual caught between the arrogant aloofness of the Olympian elite and the blind malcontent of the masses. You thought this was a silly sword-and-sandal flick designed to rake in 3D revenues and stitch little story onto large special effects? Nay, this is a cinematic sociological tract ruminating on the role of individual, apropos the rest of the Universe as run through a Greek mythological narrative!
Altogether, Clash Of The Titans is the equivalent of the prog-rock band Rush on screen. To the uninitiated it looks like pretentious, silly men with ridiculous hair hamming it up in pop culture with ideas above its station. Take a moment to appreciate it, though, and you realise its something deep as well as entertaining – invigorating, enjoyable material with some interesting ideas beneath the surface.
The schism between the upper and lower sections of society and the conflicted individual in the middle is a common theme in Rush’s back catalogue (listen to 2112 if you want to experience the greatest sci-fi film never made).
It takes an empowered, assertive individual (played by everyman Sam Worthington) to take a stand, smooth the cracks and save the day. You see? We needed Worthington to make us realise that, despite flaws, there is merit in the Clash Of The Titans remake.
If there’s a kraken in your u-bend or uppity gods giving you grief, you know where to turn.
James’ previous column can be found here.