Thursday, February 25, 2016
Review: "Gods of Egypt"
"Gods of Egypt" is the sort of thing you're tempted to laugh out loud at -- and believe me, I did, several times -- but I can't bring myself to hate it. It's the sort of goofy disposable entertainment that seems self-aware of its nature, embraces it and has fun with it.
We've had big-budget spectacles featuring the Greek/Roman pantheon of deities as well as the Norse ones via the Thor movies, so now it's the Egyptians' turn. Because everyone was demanding a Horus/Set throwdown, right?
Director Alex Proyas is known for this sort of thing -- "Dark City," "The Crow" and similar middle-brow adventures in the fantasy/science fiction wing. At $140 million, it approaches triple the budget of "Deadpool," though the CGI, while extensive, often has that cheap shallow texture endemic to cut-rate/foreign jobs.
I noticed Proyas often cut away from money shots quickly, giving us time to absorb the impact without letting our gaze linger too long to seek imperfections.
The final package is a giddy sandals-and-swords romp that feels like it plucked elements from various other movies. The gods transform into metal warriors, there are sand snakes plucked straight out of "Dune," there's lots of parkour-ish stunts involving flips and contortions that aren't really necessary to get the job done.
Plus the expected quotient of heaving bosoms, comic sidekicks and so on.
The setup here is that in this version ancient Egypt -- script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless -- the gods literally dwelled among the mortals and ruled them. They're eight feet tall, have amazing powers and live a thousand years, but they can certainly be killed and maimed -- and certainly will be over the course of the next 127 minutes.
They're essentially super heroes, dealing with the same-ol' great powers/great responsibility conundrum.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known for portraying the morally conflicted Jamie Lanister on "Game of Thrones," plays Horus, the lord of air, known for his keen sight and true aim. As the story opens he's about to be crowned king of Egypt, as daddy Osiris (an oddly uncredited Brian Brown) has reined over peace and prosperity for an eon and is ready to pass the mantle on.
But Uncle Set (Gerard Butler, in full shout-and-flex mode) isn't happy about being banished by father Ra to the wasted desert, and decides it's his turn to rule. He does some Very Bad Things, including plucking out Horus' eyes and banishing him.
Cut to our adorable human facilitator, a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) whose gorgeous lady love, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), worshiped Horus before his overthrow. She convinces Bek to steal Horus' eyes -- represented as glowing blue jewels -- from the elaborate maze of traps constructed by Set's chief builder (Proyas favorite Rufus Sewell). He manages to snatch one, but Zaya is killed in retaliation.
Bek revives the self-pitying Horus, but with one eye he's only a half-powered god. They set off on a familiar quest for revenge and true love, as Horus promises to rescue Zaya from Anubis' underworld.
Helping out are Hathor (Elodie Yung), the goddess of love who has been joined to both Horus and Set, depending on her need; and Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), the prissy but good-hearted god of knowledge and wisdom.
It's not a particularly Egyptian-looking cast, but there at least is a decent enough mix of ethnicities to pass muster as a multicultural mashup.
I liked Coster-Waldau in the lead role, even though he isn't given much to do other than fight and seethe. He's got an easygoing charisma and likable screen presence. I was glad to see the depiction of a normal male body that's athletic without the usual veiny/engorged look that's become so prevalent.
The movie takes tons of liberties with traditional Egyptian mythology, whipping up all sorts of side characters and events to fit their purposes, and sweeping anything that doesn't fit under the rug. (Look up the recorded conflict between Horus and Set; it was much more, uh, spunky.)
One of the coolest set pieces is Ra's chariot pulling the sun across the sky each day -- in this depiction, the earth is most definitively flat -- doing nightly battle with Apep, the worm of destruction. Played by Geoffrey Rush, Ra is an ancient, remote god who watches the exploits of his descendants below, silently judging but taking no direct action.
The whole sequence is quite majestic and beautiful, which is an amusing contrast with the squirmy, silly stuff happening in the sand. I think if Ra were to weigh this movie on its celestial worth, he'd probably toss it into the trashbin of the cosmos -- but he'd chortle while doing it.