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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.

Field of Dreams (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s a near-Frank Darabont quality to Phil Alden Robinson producing such a beloved feature and then subsequently offering not all that much of note. But Darabont, at least, was in the same ballpark as The Shawshank Redemption with The Green MileSneakers is good fun, The Sum of All Our Fears was a decent-sized success, but nothing since has come close to his sophomore directorial effort in terms of quality. You might put that down to the source material, WP Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, but the captivating magical-realist balance hit by Field of Dreams is a deceptively difficult one to strike, and the biggest compliment you can play Robinson is that he makes it look easy.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…