What is it that elevates the film Gladiator above other sword-and-sandal epics, such as Troy and 300? The answer is simple. Unlike the musclebound warriors Achilles and Leonidas (Brad Pitt and Gerard Butler, respectively), Russell Crowe's Maximus was a character that lived, breathed and felt pain - he was someone we could believe in. The makers of Clash of the Titans - an effects-laden revamp of the 1981 ancient Greek fantasy - obviously weren't paying attention. The story doesn't just lack character development, but characters at all. While a vain attempt is made to explore the origin of its hero Perseus and give credibility to his deep mistrust of both gods and kings, the casting of Sam Worthington renders the film fatally uninvolving.
The actor is consistent if nothing else. From Terminator Salvation to Avatar and now this, he has delivered performances so flat and lifeless that it's possible to forget he's even on screen. In the film's opening sequence he is so outshone by Pete Postlethwaite (playing Perseus' father) that it's impossible to believe the pair could ever be related. But it's not just Worthington's lack of acting chops or charisma that make him seem so out of place here - it's the Australian accent, too. Despite managing a passable American twang in his previous films, here the actor reveals himself to be the only Antipodean in Hollywood who can't master the queen's English, too (now the default speech pattern for all historical epics).
The story sees the people of Argos (the ancient civilisation, not the British retailer) growing weary of their cruel and selfish gods. But when they topple a statue of Zeus (Liam Neeson), the mythical deity threatens to send his most terrible creation, the Kraken, to lay waste to the city if they do not execute their beautiful princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). When the rulers of Argos discover Perseus' secret ancestry (he is the illegitimate son of Zeus) they send him out with a band of soldiers in a desperate bid to avert the city's destruction. The group come up against monsters aplenty, but none of the grey-brown CGI ghouls and beasts are truly scary.
In a few ways the film actually improves on the campy original. The story follows a basic "quest" format, but makes much more sense than that of its predecessor. Both Neeson and Ralph Fiennes (as the despicable Hades) look ridiculous as the permanently bickering, soft-focus gods - but the thesps are nothing if not amusing in the melodramatic roles. This new take switches the iconic stop-motion animation of the effects designer Ray Harryhausen for CGI that looks rushed and is painfully overused. Despite this, the Kraken's appearance in the finale is still exciting and actually an improvement on the man-in-rubber-suit-does-bellyflop of the original (sorry Harryhausen fans).
A few impressive sequences aren't enough to salvage the film however, which has at its centre a star with no star power and a story that it's impossible to care about. Despite some faint glimmers of promise, the director Louis Leterrier has made a film that is equally dull-minded and dull-looking.