RATING |

IN THE opening moments of "Clash of the Titans," Hades appears in a sulfurous whirlwind before his brother Zeus, who rules with an admirably straight face.

A god prone to wisecracks might have said, "You look like Hell," but Zeus (Liam Neeson) refrains, welcoming Hades (Ralph Fiennes) with a sincerity that "Titans" maintains throughout - a feat as heroic as anything in Greek mythology.

The new "Clash" opens with the two gods spitballing ideas for the ongoing torment of men, who are disobedient, especially the citizens of Argos, who've gone tea party (tired of the ruling elites) and knocked down a statue of Zeus.

It's Hades who comes up with the idea of unleashing on Argos the dreaded undersea creature known as the Kraken - a foul beast beyond man's capacity to defeat.

Is the time of man at hand?

Who will defend mortals against this monster of the deep?

Who, in other words, will smoke the Kraken?

The answer, of course, is Perseus - half-god, half-man, who must not only vanquish the Kraken but also slay the campy memory of the original "Clash," wherein the lush-lipped, long-locked Harry Hamlin held his sword as though he wished it were a blow-dryer.

Our new Perseus is Sam "Avatar" Worthington, the Aussie tough guy who made his bones in "T4" and has proved himself to be a credible presence in action movies. He's a big asset here, and, with Perseus' glowing sword, guards the thin line between goofy fun and outright camp.

He has an angry brow, a deep, authoritative voice and a masculine sense of humor. His Perseus has a nice macho chemistry with a band of Argos soldiers (shades of "300") dispatched to accompany the demigod on a string of spectacular, sweaty errands (he works up a demi-glaze) that set the stage for the big Kraken whackin'.

Worthington's an ideal choice to anchor the straightforward action-movie treatment imparted to "Clash" from director Louis Leterrier, who needs to have an easy time with his actors because there are so many 3-D effects to worry about.

Leterrier understands pacing - the movie fairly zips along - but he has uneven results with the special effects. To see "Clash" is to grasp the prowess and smarts of James Cameron and "Avatar." Cameron chose colors and techniques that complemented a technology still in its rudimentary stage.

The monochrome images in "Clash" (much of it is set in the desert) tend to slip and vibrate when peripheral characters move. It's one movie that actually benefits from a 2-D viewing, and brighter images and more clarity.

On the other hand, in the delirious world of the Saturday-afternoon matinee, FX professionalism is greatly overrated. Those of us who grew up on special effects creator Ray Harryhaussen's movies didn't love them for their photo-realism, and we sure didn't mind a little cheese.

"Clash," with its blue-eyed Djinn armies, giant scorpions and snake-haired ladies, will find a receptive audience among youngsters, and a few grown-ups who haven't.