Gods of Egypt
(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.