It's not that I was expecting it to be good - 2010 truly is shaping up to be the year of abysmal epic movies. It's just that I couldn't have predicted the nature of its badness; I'd expected it to be boring, maybe, or overly concerned with big flashy special effects. I hadn't expected to be constantly blindsided by new and more amazing hilarity, over and over and over until I thought I might conceivably choke to death.
Meet Perseus. He is a baby, stuck in a box, tossed upon stormy waters until he reaches the welcoming arms and fishing-boat of 'Spiros'. (Apparently Dictys just wasn't a Greek enough name.) Fast-forward some years, and behold how Spiros and his charming family serve only one purpose, which is to die tragically and thereby give the now adult Perseus a reason to hate the gods. Their death happens as a result of soldiers destroying a big old statue of Zeus; men have grown restless, you see, and have come to hate living under the tyranny of Olympus. Which is fine, but still, inviting omnipotent beings' extreme displeasure seems frankly unwise, and sure enough the soldiers are soon destroyed by "harpies". (They're not, but never mind.) Perseus's adopted family perish in the chaos, drowning with embarrassingly funny slow-motion underwater gargling and leaving Perseus collapsed on some floating wood, really giving it some in the 'overwrought manly screams of distress' stakes.
So much for them. Some soldiers rescue/capture Perseus and take him to the palace where they come from, which is where we hit our next problem. A word of advice to directors everywhere : if your film consists of mainly British actors, and it is not very good, and you don't give a damn about being faithful to the myth anyway, you may wish to consider renaming the town where half the action takes place. Call it something else. Call it anything else, but don't call it Argos. Because if you do, every single time anyone mentions it - 'Where are we?' 'Argos.'; 'There's a demigod in Argos.' 'That's impossible!' - it will get funnier, until people are incapacitated with laughter.
Somewhere around here we get our first introduction to the gods. I read a review the other day that claimed that Liam Neeson, who plays Zeus, looked "lost in his costume", and I was curious to see what was meant by this as I couldn't picture it. Liam Neeson, it turns out, does indeed look lost in his costume, and that is because his costume is a glowing suit of armour that sparkles. Constantly. He is Zeus Cullen. You could hold a disco with him as the centrepiece. It is beautiful. All the gods look ridiculous - apart from Hades, Apollo is more or less the only other one who gets any screen time (so goodness knows why they bothered to cast Agyness Deyn as Aphrodite, as you don't even see her) and he looks like a visual representation of the words 'excess pomade'.
Hades is something else entirely. Ralph Fiennes, here reprising his voice as Lord Voldemort, limps and hisses and hams his way through his lines with all the élan of someone who knows a talent scout is in the audience to watch him playing 'second henchman'. Every time he appears to mortals, it is at the centre of a sudden explosion of black ash and flame, which no doubt seemed very intimidating as a concept but, wonderfully, invariably looks like he's a giant angry butterfly. There is no excuse for how bad he is in this.
In fact, there is no excuse for any of this, and to such an extent that I think I'm going to have to resort to a list. So, other things for which there is no excuse :
* Io. Gemma Arterton is very nearly an excuse in her own right, obviously, but come on, guys, let's face it - Io is a cow. Instead, in this film, she is a beautiful woman in a series of ever-more implausible outfits, whose mission in life is to hover around watching Perseus grow up, be vaguely helpful in a mystic and serene sort of way and then die abruptly, only to be resurrected so they can spend the rest of eternity together. Perseus is in love with her, obviously, because in no way is knowing someone has secretly watched your every move since you were a baby remotely creepy, like a really dedicated internet stalker.
* Acrisius. I like Jason Flemyng as much as anyone, but he is an excellent actor and deserves better than to be unscrupulously merged with the character of Calibos and then limp around after Perseus, bleeding giant scorpions (however that's supposed to work) and being disfigured by burns instead of killed by Zeus or sporting equipment.
* Sheikh Suleiman, or, as I mentally referred to him throughout the film, Mumm-Ra. In theory he is a djinn, which is sort of mythologically awkward as they don't appear anywhere in Greek myth, and the explanation for his weird face is that when the djinn lose bits of themselves they magically replace them with wood and stuff, which frankly...is made up. I don't know where this bizarre set of ideas even came from, as there are no djinn in the 1981 movie, and while he's very useful to have around, being a healer, hypnotiser of giant scorpions, magic in general and immune to Medusa's power owing to being made of sodding wood, if you ask me, that is cheating.
* The Stygian Witches. These are supposed to be the Graeae, as in the original myth, and I realise they're called 'stygian witches' in the original film to which this is An Homage and all, but if you're going to make them creepy misshapen Pan's Labyrinth-like old bags and give them the requisite one eye to pass between the three of them, then why suddenly wimp out about the one tooth? All three women had lots of teeth. I know this, because they were going to use them to eat Nicholas Hoult.
* Medusa. She is a giant snake in underwear. I don't know why. It is ridiculous. Just a big snake, in a basque!
* Speaking of which, Perseus's inspiring speech prior to entering Medusa's lair. We have just sat through Io explaining the pain of Medusa's existence, in an almost slightly moving recounting of the story of how she refused Poseidon and prayed to Athena for help, but Athena scorned her prayers and thus she was turned into, apparently, a giant snake in underwear. We have heard Io tell Perseus of Medusa's hurting, and her longing, and her tragedy. So when Perseus gleefully grins at his four male companions and tells them, "Don't look this bitch in the eye," it seems somehow a touch inappropriate. Heroes - they're just full of chivalric charm.
* Charon. They call him the ferryman, but they don't mean that he is literally a man made of ferry, for crying out loud. In this movie, Charon is a creepy undead elongated corpsified pointlessness who appears to be one with his giant boat. No.
These and many other things. At the very end of the movie, Perseus stands with Zeus amid the wreckage of his statue (remember the statue?) and Zeus tells him, "With a feat like yours, they will worship you." Behind him is a giant replica of his foot. At no point did anyone consider that this juxtaposition might be funny. And that more or less sums up what was wrong, and fabulously, wonderfully right, with the entire film, in just one scene.
Things for which there are excuses : Nicholas Hoult's face; Hans Matheson's face; Mads Mikkelsen's face. All right, and Gemma Arterton's face, but Io is still a cow.
And now I should probably do some work.