In this SPOILER-filled review, CC2K looks at the script for the proposed film adaptation of the popular PS2 game.
Before I begin, a disclaimer is in order. I've never played (nor can I call myself a fan of) God of War. Sorry Playstation acolytes, I'm an Xbox devotee. And while I'm no fan of the trend God of War started with the prompted-button-mashing quick-time events that most third-person action games have adopted recently (some to disastrous effect), I have been more than a little interested in this game franchise, mainly because of its storyline/setting. I loved Clash of the Titans specifically, and Greek mythology in general, in my younger years (heck, I still do). I was probably the only kid in my sophomore English class that actually enjoyed it when works of Greek mythology were assigned reading. So it was with quite a bit of excitement that I sat down with the script by David Self that adapts God of War from video game to film. Is it as good as fans hope it to be? Read on to find out.
Before reading the script I did some research online to familiarize myself with the game's plot. After a visit to Wikipedia and watching a compilation of the plot-forwarding cut scenes from the game on YouTube, I felt prepared to delve into Self's script. Fortunately for fans, I can report that Self has not erred in the fashion of the makers of the Doom movie. In case you've forgotten, that movie scrapped the fairly straight forward plot of the game wherein scientists were playing around with teleportation tech on Mars, and inadvertently opened a gate to Hell. Instead the movie replaced that with scientists playing around with genetic material from dead Martians and inadvertently creating a bunch of hellish monsters.
Nope, Self has stayed true (almost slavishly so) to the game's plot. God of War introduces the newly created character of Kratos and places him at the center of a world in which the mythology of ancient Greece is real and very much alive. Kratos is an ambitious captain in the Spartan army, as well as a husband and father. When his legion of soldiers is routed and about to be slaughtered by a much larger horde of barbarians, Kratos desperately cries out to Ares (the God of War) for aid, promising him a life of servitude if Ares will save Kratos and vanquish his enemies. Ares hears and agrees, making Kratos his champion, bestowing him with the Blades of Chaos, and setting Kratos on a path of battle and bloodshed in the name of the God of War.
As you would expect, Kratos's wife does not approve, and when she can't dissuade Kratos from continued service to Ares, she ventures to a temple of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom, Peace, and Heroic Endeavors, among others) to pray on his behalf. Kratos and his ever-expanding battalion attack the surrounding village, and Kratos himself enters that very temple, where he unwittingly murders his wife and child, due to a trick perpetrated by Ares. Filled with grief and rage, cursed by an old crone to wear the ashes of his dead family on his very skin, Kratos sets out for revenge against Ares, who even then is launching the opening salvo in a war against the other gods of Olympus by having his armies lay siege to Athena's favored city. En route Kratos is visited by Athena herself. They have similar desires, namely the death of Ares, but Athena is unable to personally intervene; the laws of Olympus forbid open war between the gods themselves. She tasks Kratos with visiting The Oracle of Athens, whom she promises will set Kratos on the path to finding the one object with the power to slay a god.
From there Kratos ventures to the Desert of Lost Souls, the Temple of Pandora, which sits on the back of the cursed and wandering Titan Cronus, gets briefly cast into Hades, only to be cast back out to the world of the living by the God of the Dead, ultimately opens Pandora's Box, and uses its power to fight and kill Ares. Along the way Kratos battles just about every monster that ever existed in Greek mythology: the Hydra, minotaurs, satyrs, cyclops, Medusa, harpies, sirens, not to mention dopplegangers of Kratos.
As is probably the case in the game, all of this is hyper-realized in Self's script. Athens is a megalopolis, the New York of Ancient Greece with 300 foot-high walls, towers and aeries that stretch even higher, and at its center an enormous temple to Athena. Satyrs are not impish goat-men, but 8-foot-tall, hellish brutes. Cyclops are 20-30 foot-tall behemoths. Medusa's lower, serpentine half of her body stretches 50 feet long. The Hydra is a leviathan of the deep ocean with necks as thick as redwoods. The gods are not merely human-sized beings in white robes lounging around Olympus, but titanic in size and power. Ares, when not taking the form of a fiery tornado, manifests as a giant 600 feet tall, adorned in jet black armor, with a blazing mane and beard, and bleeds a combustible, oil-like fluid. In short, everything about God of War is like Clash of the Titans, only taken to the extreme and amped up to satisfy the 21st century sensibilities of males aged 15-25.
And really, I'm okay with all of this. I find that a strange thing to say, as I recently argued in favor of the restraint and gritty realism of Milius's King Conan: Crown of Iron in forging a successful return of R. E. Howard's famous barbarian to the big screen. My only explanation for this apparent contradiction is that I'm judging these scripts based on what I am familiar with, based on what came before. Conan the Barbarian will be the standard against which I judge any attempt to reboot that character, hence I favor Milius's unproduced script over the script by Donnelly & Oppenheimer for the proposed remake. From that point of view, God of War is a video game, a bloody, violent, action/adventure video game. Let's be honest, none of us are expecting (nor do we want) award-nominated film-as-art stuff here. We want Hollywood to take the source material seriously and treat it with respect. We want 300 meets Clash of the Titans (and no, that doesn't contradict the previous sentence). David Self does exactly that with this script, giving fans the potential for an adaptation they can be satisfied with and enjoy. Though that's not to say Self hasn't taken a few...liberties.
Okay, maybe one. At least, one significant enough to catch the attention of this reviewer (who has never played the game, remember), and one that may be significant enough to raise the ire of fans of the game. Whether you've played the game or not, check out this video of the final cut scene of the game (skip to the 4:00 minute mark for the scene I'm about to discuss):
In the script, Self flips the order of these final events around a bit. Instead of being offered (and accepting) the Godhood of War after he attempts suicide as he does in the game, in the script Kratos is offered the godhood, rejects it, and casts himself off the cliffs. Just before hitting the jagged rocks below, the script ends as follows --
"Your turn, Hades..."
-- just before we SMASHCUT TO BLACK.
It's puzzling why Self makes this change, particularly when he's been so faithful with the plot up to this point. It is clear from such an unresolved ending that there is room for a sequel. And it makes sense for a film sequel to God of War to adapt the story of the second video game in the franchise; however, God of War II opens with Kratos having ascended to become the God of War, and the plot centers on events that transpire as a result of that. It would be an easy enough thing to change, and if this movie ever actually gets made I wouldn't be surprised if what we have here and what we have in the game are just two of a variety of endings that get filmed. Speaking of this project moving into production, on a final note I'd like to offer an opinion on who should be cast in the lead role of Kratos.
I've seen plenty of nominations across the internet for one or another muscled big man for the role. For some reason most of these are professional wrestlers like Bill Goldberg or (Dave) Batista. Personally, I'd prefer brains (or in this case, talent) over brawn, which is why I support lead game designer David Jaffe's dream choice of Djimon Hounsou. Sure, some might argue all you need is a big guy with lots of muscles who can do this all day, but there is more to this character. Whoever plays Kratos needs to be able to convey grief, despair, compassion, remorse, ambition, and joy all in addition to rage and intensity. I'd take Hounsou's acting ability over the fact that he might not be an exact physical match for Kratos any day.
CC2K Co-Founder Robert J. Peterson invites you to support his sci-fi novel The Odds: Book One of the Deadblast Trilogy. It's a post-spocalyptic action-comedy that hearkens back to madcap movies like Big Trouble in Little China. Give it a look!