Gods of Egypt (2016)

by - February 26th, 2016 - Movie Reviews


Visually Rambunctious Gods a Perplexing Misfire

It’s hard to know what to make of the Egyptian mythological adventure Gods of Egypt. Directed by The Crow and Dark City mastermind Alex Proyas and set in an ancient world where God and Human wander around together side-by-side, this is a rambunctious fantasy that goes so far over the top it actually features a gigantic spaceship circling the Earth where its pilot battles a giant plant-eating worm night after night. It is a visually ambitious spectacle where every penny of its reported $140-million budget is right there on the screen, the acclaimed filmmaker pulling out all the stops as he attempts to give writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ latest narrative construct life.

PHOTO: Summit Entertainment

PHOTO: Summit Entertainment

And he has to, because the pair’s script is rather laughable, a melodramatic hodgepodge of ideas liberally borrowing from influences as varied The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cleopatra and any number of Ray Harryhausen event spectacles ranging from 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, to 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts, to 1981’s Clash of the Titans. While not quite as lumbering or as consistently pathetic as the duo’s last two endeavors, the tragically silly Dracula Untold and the mind-numbing supernatural bore The Last Witch Hunter, this movie is still aggressively stupid, featuring characters and situations that are as absurd as they are preposterous.

Taking place in an Egypt where the God Osiris (Bryan Brown) is set to grant rule of the known world to his beloved son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), only to be slain by his militaristic brother Set (Gerard Butler) before the crown can be passed on. Into this family squabble ventures human thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites), the young man head-over-heels for the beautiful Zaya (Courtney Eaton), his heart belonging to her entirely. But when she is mortally wounded, he vows to bring his beloved back from the afterlife, striking a bargain with the still-grieving Horus, God and Man joining forces to end Set’s rule and save the Earth from being devoured by a monstrous evil.

How does a human being make a bargain with a deity? Horus had his eyes stolen from him by Set, Bek managing to break into a treasure temple in order to steal one back. This leads to an uneasy alliance, Gods of Egypt settling into a pattern reminiscent of a buddy movie like Lethal Weapon or 48hrs, the pair traipsing all around the desert looking for allies to help them in their fight. This includes an interstellar segue to visit Horus’ grandfather, the omnipotent father of the Gods Ra (Geoffrey Rush), his nightly battles against the demon Apophis draining him of the majority of his strength.

It’s impossible to know where to begin. Everything is overwrought and nothing is subtle, but considering how exuberantly excitable all of it is one can only assume this is entirely by design. Proyas pushes things in a way that is beyond aggressive, throwing subtly out of the window entirely as his heroes race madly here and there in their quest to unseat Set and save Zaya from damnation. They battle giant snakes controlled by the warrior goddesses Astarte (Abbey Lee) and Anat (Yaya Deng) while also make alliances with Goddess of Love Hathor (Elodie Yung) and God of Wisdom Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), everything building to a battle with Set atop a giant monument to Ra where the budding friendship between Horus and Bek is put to the ultimate test.

The movie is beyond stupid. At the same time, I got the feeling that Proyas realizes this, and, instead of trying to mask the inherent absurdity of what is transpiring, he pushes it front and center, reveling in the unabashed lunacy as if he were making a Loony Tunes cartoon and not a budget-busting Hollywood spectacular. Marco Beltrami’s (The Hurt Locker) boisterous score is suitably enormous, while Peter Menzies Jr.’s (Hard Rain) swooping, freewheeling camerawork glides throughout the CGI-generated landscapes and sets vigorous ease. As per usual for the filmmaker, there is a painterly esthetic to costumes, sets and landscapes that are intricate and imaginative, allowing for plenty for the eyes to continually wonder at even if the central scenario itself barely warrants any attention whatsoever.

But, again, calling all of this dumb is an obvious understatement. The script does nothing original, save maybe the way it posits the forms of the various characters (the Gods substantially taller than their human counterparts), while the central scenario involving Horus and Bek is so threadbare it barely even exists at all. Sazama and Sharpless have apparently never met a cliché they didn’t want to embrace with open arms, so much of the scenario reveling in the absolute worst of them they only grow more and more tiresome as events progress.

I like Coster-Waldau, the “Game of Thrones” favorite a much better actor (see the Norwegian thriller Headhunters for proof on that front) than the majority of his Hollywood roles would suggest. He’s suitably gruff as far as all of this is concerned, and I did like his interplay with the gorgeous Yung, the two having an unfussy chemistry that’s intoxicating. But he’s not really called upon to stretch himself or do too much, getting by more on his innate charm and sex appeal as he is on anything else.

PHOTO: Summit Entertainment

PHOTO: Summit Entertainment

Which is more than can be said for Butler. I got the feeling he realized just how messy all of this was turning out to be early on, and as such he kind of phones things in, never going as far over the top as he easily could have. He’s a rather forgettable villain, in all actuality, ending up coming across more like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum, his ultimate plan of allowing Apophis to feast while he happily watches making no practical sense at all. Even his fight scenes with Coster-Waldau aren’t what they should have been, both of the main ones lacking any semblance of urgency that would have allowed them to generate suspense or tension.

It’s weird that it has been seven years since Proyas’ last film, the defiantly unhinged end-of-the-world Nicolas Cage thriller Knowing, especially considering it was a surprise box office hit. Even more of a shock, Gods of Egypt is the script he ultimately decided to attach himself to, what it was that drew him to it I wouldn’t begin to understand. While he directs with his typical idiosyncratic passion and confidence, there’s just too much in the way of imbecilic baggage for him to be able to overcome all of it with any of his cinematic bravado. While not an outright disaster, this is still as massively perplexing a misfire as any likely to see a release this year, and one I hope a filmmaker as talented as Proyas doesn’t take an additional seven years to recover from.

Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)

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