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

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

What do you want me to do? Call America and tell them I changed my mind?

  Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) (SPOILERS) The demolition – at very least as a ratings/box office powerhouse – of the superhero genre now appears to be taking effect. If so, Martin Scorsese will at least be pleased. The studios that count – Disney and Warner Bros – are all aboard the woke train, such that past yardsticks like focus groups are spurned in favour of the forward momentum of agendas from above (so falling in step with the broader media initiative). The most obvious, some might say banal, evidence of this is the repurposing of established characters in race or gender terms.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you got yourself killed.

Bloodshot (2020) (SPOILERS) If the trailer for Bloodshot gave the impression it had some meagre potential, that’s probably because it revealed the entire plot of a movie clearly intended to unveil itself in measured and judicious fashion. It isn’t far from the halfway mark that the truth about the situation Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison faces is revealed, which is about forty-one minutes later than in the trailer. More frustratingly, while themes of perception of reality, memory and identity are much-ploughed cinematic furrows, they’re evergreens if dealt with smartly. Bloodshot quickly squanders them. But then, this is, after all, a Vin Diesel vehicle.