Perseus (Sam Worthington) is the baby in the basket found in the marshes — no wait, actually, he’s in a sealed trunk, thrown into the ocean with his mortal mother, who perishes. But since he’s the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), he survives, to be raised by humble peasants (a fisherman and his wife), and when he grows up he wants nothing more than to live a simple human life, like them.
Ah, but his demigod status won’t let him alone. Zeus’ brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), banned to the underworld because of Zeus’ victory on earth from Mount Olympus (their brother Poseidon gets to rule the seas) plots to take over the whole creation, and especially wants to destroy Perseus. So the Devil, er, Hades, tries to prevent Jesus, er, Perseus, from fulfilling his divine destiny, to rule with Zeus on Mount Olympus (sitting at the right hand of the father?).
Perseus, at first unwilling to use his special powers, needs all the help he can get to battle the demonic, other-worldly beings thrown at him (“Release the Krakens!”). He’s assisted by a beautiful lady, Mary Magdalene, er, Io (Gemma Arterton), and a merry band of loyal followers, some of whom are impetuous and slow to catch on, but eventually, they get it. Perseus has to journey to the underworld to preach to the spirits in prison, er, no, wait, to do battle with Medusa, whose severed snakehead comes in handy when needing to turn monsters to stone (a pillar of salt would do nicely, also).
The speaking serpent is indeed a cunning adversary: can’t be overpowered, has to be outsmarted.
Let’s see, we have a resurrection (or at least a resuscitation from the dead), and the dramatic sacrifice of one person, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), who is supposed to give her life as ransom for many (a concept so popular with the populace that they’re literally screaming for her blood). We have a hero who is the product of a divine father and a human mother, who seems to embody the best of both, and must somehow rescue humanity from a fate where the furies of Hades would have enjoyed free reign over them. At first, he’s reluctant about his unique destiny, but eventually, wears the mantle of savior of mankind (and enemy of Hades). It’s interesting to hear the idea presented here that the gods actually prosper because of the prayers of the people, and their influence shrinks when the people ignore them (a rather anthropocentric way of looking at the Deity).
But, lest we take all the theological inferences too seriously, this is, after all, an action epic. A saga. A grand adventure, literally spanning heaven above, earth below, and hell beneath. So what if it’s a little cheesy? It may even become campy (though that’s rarely predictable). The use of quality actors in the primary roles at least recommends a serious look. It probably didn’t need to be in 3-D. But consider it part of being an epic: the kind of lore that has been told around many an ancient Greek campfire, and now settles nicely into our colorful treasure trove of fanciful fables.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.