Skip to main content

If I even attempted to explain, your brain would liquify and run out of your ears.

Gods of Egypt
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Mental. I didn’t need to read reviews of Gods of Egypt to know it was appalling; I only had to watch the trailers. And then the reviews came out, and they all said it was appalling. And then… a few dissenting voices emerged, suggesting that actually it was sort of, kind of brilliant, in an entirely demented, mad-as-a-box-of-frogs way. And they are, sort of, kind of right.


Alex Proyas’ movie is utterly deranged, deliriously so, and for all that it frequently stumbles (Brendan Thwaites is a pallid, tepid, unconvincing lead, for all that he’s been down the gym, and his steady stream of quips fall entirely flat; the effects are entirely hit-and-miss, which is unfortunate, as the picture is bursting at the seams with them), it just as frequently hits the mark (a triumvirate of terrific supporting performances, a story that actually has – looney, but still – proper progression and trajectory, and action direction that is coherent for all its gaudy excess).


Proyas had previously laboured on an ill-fated adaption of Paradise Lost, so the trip to the underworld here no doubt helped swing things when it came to signing on (it has been suggested he brought much of his Lost concept work with him, but I can’t really see that to be honest; this seems pretty Egypt-orientated for all that it plays fast and loose with the mythology). Mind you, the screenplay is credited to Matt and Burk Sharpless, previously responsible for such dead losses as Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter (they are also attached to the forthcoming Lost in Space reboot), so who knows how much uncredited surgery the director performed? Certainly, I’ve enjoyed most of Proyas’ previous work, to a greater or lesser extent, Dark City in particular.


Irrespective of its eye-of-the-beholder, maniacal merits, Gods of Egypt looks to be remembered as one of those “What were they thinking?” super bombs (a $151m worldwide gross on a $140m budget) that makes you incredulous anyone ever seriously thought this might kick-start a franchise (for Lionsgate, desperate for something, anything, right now). Although, it mercifully doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, or annoyingly leave threads dangling (okay, Hathor – Elodie Yung – is consigned to the underworld, but death sucks, right?).


Remembered for its cost, and also for the casting controversy, that is. Having seen the picture, frankly I have to sort of agree with Proyas that it’s “not the best one to soap-box issues of diversity with”, since it’s so entirely ludicrous on every level, fidelity to anything, anywhere in any respect seems irrelevant, or spurious at best. Exodus: Gods and Kings, with its ill-advised (box-office wise, certainly) attempt to adopt a semi-realist (read: sceptical) interpretation of the biblical text feels like a more deserving target in that regard.


Besides which, I find it difficult to muster nominal indignation when the likes of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Horus), Gerard Butler (Set), Geoffrey Rush (Ra) and Chadwick Boseman (Thoth) are having so much appropriately obvious fun. Coster-Waldau in particular is provisioned with a (co-)lead big screen role worthy of his talents, and gets to essay cinema’s best eye-patched protagonist since Snake Plissken. Or Captain Ron, at very least.


So effortlessly does he inhabit the anti-hero mode (alas, moulded more towards the heroic ideal as the picture progresses), I could readily imagine him taking the lead in Uncharted, or even that Escape from New York remake (not that it should be remade); he more than has the charisma, crucially has great chops, and if he could just avoid transforming into a rudimentary CGI metal chicken at the drop of the hat, we’d be away.


Butler revels in the oozing evil of Set, killing or maiming (he plucks out Horus' eyes) with abandon anyone and everyone in his petulant path (including his brother – Bryan bleeding Brown – and dad Ra), while Rush is established in the most deliciously bonkers rendering of Ra, strolling his space skiff, fending off the daily encroachment of the monstrous Apophis, all set on devouring the world. Perhaps the only surprise is that no one went the Von Daniken route with all this, as there are more than enough elements (the battle armour, the space vessels) that would lend themselves. Boseman’s Thoth is also good fun, extremely arch and getting himself into an arrogantly tight spot when it comes to showing the sphinx his superior knowledge.


Some of the rest aren’t so enchanting. Yung is as unpersuasive here as she was as Electra in Daredevil, and some of her line readings could use a good varnish. Thwaites, as I’ve mentioned, is the biggest drawback, a wet blanket and charisma black hole determined to prevent the picture from fulfilling its potential as a batshit-crazy classic (particularly as some of his lines aren't bad, such as asking where Thoth was watching the world come into being from if there was nothing there at that point).  Rufus Sewell makes an impression as Set’s grovelling stooge, while Courtney Eaton (Fury Road) stands around looking sweetly pretty as Thwaites’ motivating force.


The effects are a curious hotchpotch. While you’re never other than aware of the artifice, Proyas invests the spectacle and action with enough oomph and wherewithal that the shoddiness only rarely detracts from enjoyment (an appropriate comparison might be the oeuvre of Stephen Sommers, were this aspect is entirely in the reverse). The slow-mo mighty morphing power gods and their battle poses are both cool and cheesy in equal measure, while the reverse-hobbit conceit of giant gods sharing the screen with half-pint humans is achieved pretty well for the most part. Mostly, however, it’s about the willingness to just go for it, such as Set’s chariot pulled by giant scarab beetles, and a couple of goddesses riding gargantuan snakes (one of whom, the goddesses rather than the snakes, Abbey Lee, was also in Fury Road). On an entirely different scale, it reminded me of the cheerfully vibrant, cheapo 1980s adaptation of the Mahabharata.


Thematically there’s some interesting material concerning concepts of the afterlife (in this take at least, the ancient Egyptians didn’t believe in reincarnation), with Set’s edict for material wealth to ensure passage through to the beyond being replaced by Horus’ free entry, emphasising good deeds during one’s life (so suggesting Jesus versus Satan polarities, and very Paradise Lost), but in basic form the structure and character journeys are recognisably standard fare, which is probably why there were franchise thoughts in the minds of the deluded studio suits.


Proyas wasn’t happy with the damning reviews (“Diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass” he ranted), but he ought to take comfort that Gods of Egypt is ensured a rich afterlife of its own; this will become a camp cult gem in a way the terminally forgettable (and hugely successful) Clash of the Titans remake could never have done. Indeed, the picture is the natural inheritor of the thesp-heavy line-up of Ray Harryhausen’s original, but considerably more animated and much more fun; it’s the choice of leads – Thwaites excepted – that make it so. So don’t be too disheartened, Alex. You’ve made something worth a dozen average studio blockbusters.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

The Krishna died of a broken finger? I mean, is that a homicide?

Miami Blues (1990) (SPOILERS) If the ‘90s crime movie formally set out its stall in 1992 with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs , another movie very quietly got in there first at the beginning of the decade. Miami Blues picked up admiring reviews but went otherwise unnoticed on release, and even now remains under-recognised. The tale of “blithe psychopath” Federick J. Frenger, Jr., the girl whose heart he breaks and the detetive sergeant on his trail, director George Armitage’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s novel wears a pitch black sense of humour and manages the difficult juggling act of being genuinely touching with it. It’s a little gem of a movie, perfectly formed and concisely told, one that more than deserves to rub shoulders with the better-known entries in its genre. One of the defining characteristics of Willeford’s work, it has been suggested , is that it doesn’t really fit into the crime genre; he comes from an angle of character rather than plot or h

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .