Gods of Egypt (2016)
“All of Heaven is at war”
Gods of Egypt (2016)
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites
Synopsis: Mortal hero Bek teams with the god Horus in an alliance against Set, the merciless god of darkness who has usurped Egypt’s throne, plunging the once peaceful and prosperous empire into chaos and conflict.
Gods of Egypt is the kind of blockbuster that’s a perfect candidate for release in those balmy summer months in which we’ve become conditioned to expect our movies to be spectacularly mindless and loud. That’s not to say it’s a particularly bad film – although it’s not particularly good, either – but it’s one labouring under the mistaken belief that simply attaching stupendous special effects to a proven action-adventure formula is enough to ensure box-office success. The truth is that no amount of dazzling screen magic can overcome the kind of pedestrian plot we have here, which essentially boils down to nothing more than mismatched buddies in a race against time to save a damsel in distress. Fifty-odd years ago, when Ray Harryhausen’s painstaking stop-motion creations were the height of effects sophistication, a filmmaker giving such scant regard to plot and characterisation might just have gotten away with it; back then, the mere sight of a tiny man poking a stick at a dinosaur, or a spaceship with balsa-wood legs landing in the middle of a field was enough to fill us with awe because relatively few films contained such scenes. Today, CGI is everywhere, but instead of marvelling at the fantastic sights it serves up, we just mutter grudging appreciation of the technical wizardry involved.
In director Alex Proyas’s vision of ancient Egypt, nine-foot-tall Gods with blood of gold and a variety of accents of indeterminate origin live amongst their human worshippers. They assume human form, but are capable of transforming themselves into creatures of great strength and enormous speed. However, although they are suspiciously like our superheroes of today, they’re not above a little familial jealousy, which is something Top God Osiris (Bryan Brown) perhaps might have taken into account when he decided to hand over his crown to favoured son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Blackthorn, Oblivion). Set (Gerard Butler), Osiris’s other son, doesn’t take the news well and, to be honest, I can sort of understand him being a little miffed. After all, while Horus was partying late into the night and bedding comely Lady Gods like Hathor (Elodie Young – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Narcopolis), Set was labouring in the desert on behalf of his father. Arriving late for the coronation, Set poops on the grandly-staged celebrations by killing his father and plucking out the strength-giving eyes of his brother after first giving him a sound beating (which kind of makes you wonder just how useful they were in the first place).
With his father and brother out of the way, Set instates himself as ruler and enslaves the entire nation, but a threat to his omnipotence appears in the unlikely form of young street thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites) whose determination to restore Huros to power is fuelled not by his belief in every human being’s right to freedom, but a burning desire to please his foxy girlfriend, Zaya (Courtney Eaton – Mad Max: Fury Road). To achieve this, he must first retrieve Huros’s eyes from the booby-trapped vault in which Set has stored them, and then help the fallen God to overcome his brother.
Gods of Egypt feels like a cross between Jason and the Argonauts and an Indiana Jones flick, with a few bonus scenes of thirsty treks across vast desert wastelands embellished by an epic, sweeping score reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia thrown in for good measure. For a while it looks as if Proyas and his team have got it right, but it eventually becomes apparent that, like brightly-coloured paint over crumbling masonry, the effects are not only there to dazzle the audience, but to distract us from the transparently threadbare plot as well. There’s a conveyor-belt inevitability about each successive challenge faced by Bek and Huros, but no upping of the stakes so that, after the third or fourth time, it all becomes something of a slog. The interplay between the two heroes does entertain on occasion but, in order for their banter to work, its necessary for writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless to give Huros and the other Gods the kind of human sensibilities which we’ve long been taught should be beneath them.
The cast of Gods of Egypt is largely comprised of the kind of b-list actors you’d expect to find in such an effects-heavy extravaganza. Butler is the biggest name attached. He broods in his best 300-mode beneath an impressive beard and furrowed brow, and puts one in mind of a younger, better-looking Russell Crowe, even though he perpetually struggles to disguise his heavy Scottish brogue. Danish actor Coster-Waldau provides some beefcake for women who’ve been dragged along by their other half’s, and, despite his major role, Brenton Thwaites is almost completely anonymous as he buzzes about Coster-Waldau like an irritating gnat. As usual with this kind of movie, the women are given thankless roles. But they do at least look extremely becoming in those gowns with plunging necklines that were clearly compulsory attire for Ancient Egyptian women.
Gods of Egypt isn’t as bad a picture as many would have you believe – much of the vitriol aimed at it seems to be fuelled by the increasing furore over the lack of black actors in prominent roles – and will certainly entertain those who favour spectacle over substance. For the rest of us, it proves to be something of a frustrating – but all too familiar – experience. If only Hollywood would credit us with a little more intelligence…
(Reviewed 1st March 2016)