Friday, 15 July 2016

NEW RELEASE: Gods Of Egypt

Gods Of Egypt
(Director: Alex Proyas.  Starring: Brenton Twaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush)

Last year Ridley Scott released his biblical epic Exodus: Gods & Kings to much fanfare but also criticism over the film's decision to cast most of the lead roles with caucasian actors.  The most obvious example being casting the Pharaoh of Egypt with Joel Edgerton, an actor from Australia, which is about as far from North African lineage as you can get.  This seemed particularly egregious considering the proximity to the Oscars diversity row and larger conversation about Hollywood whitewashing.
Michael Jackson, apparently
Now we have Alex Proyas' Gods Of Egypt which caused controversy as soon as the first posters released revealed the gods of the title to be played by the very Scottish Gerard Butler and the Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau which isn't the most obvious casting considering that both those countries are well known for their large population of Gingers, the closest thing we have in the real world to those albino vampires in Blade II.  Then just to make sure they stuffed two famous Australians in there too (in the form of FX's Bryan Brown and a surprisingly unembarrassed Geoffrey Rush).
Although the most shocking part is just finding out that Bryan Brown is alive and working
However the plot doesn't begin with the characters played by any of these actors but with a young thief called Bek played by Brenton Twaites.  Bek (who is first introduced in the kind of cliched 'old man looking back at his glory years' voiceover guaranteed to make you roll your eyes at the character before he even appears on screen) is a human peasant filling in the Aladdin-esque role of loveable rogue caught up in the battle between supernatural forces of good and evil.  Well, at least he is supposed to, but lacks both lovability and roguishness and instead looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model with no acting experience who has bumbled onto the wrong set.  He looks about as Egyptian as the Sydney Opera House and has the on-screen charm and charisma of the remains of a digestive biscuit found in the back pocket of a pair of jeans you just took out the washing machine.  In short, he comes across exactly like you'd expect of someone with the name Brenton Twaites.
One of these arseholes surely MUST be called 'Brenton.'
His plot revolves around his love for Zaya, an equally unrealistically photogenic slave played by Courtney Eaton (oddly being now the 4th Australian in the lead cast).  Zaya is introduced as having pretty much zero characterisation beyond her inexplicable adoration of the god Horus, her even more inexplicable love for Bek and her collection of extremely low cut dresses.  She has almost the same screen presence as a shadow of a chair.  Eaton appears to have been cast in this film for only two reasons but shortly after being introduced she takes an arrow through the left one and into her heart leading to Bek having to devise a plan to retrieve her from the afterlife.
Yes, that was a boob joke.  I'm sorry.
Seriously though, these people can't act.
Meanwhile, the Gods have problems of their own.  Osiris, the king of Egypt, has decided that it is time to pass on his throne to his son Horus (it's not entirely clear why though as the gods appear to be immortal and therefore ageless so it's not like he's just received his bus pass or anything.)   Horus is introduced waking from a bad hangover amongst a harem of beautiful but confusingly tiny human women.  You see in this film the gods appear exactly the same as humans apart from that they are considerably larger.  Proyas uses some effective CGI to make Nikolaj Coster-Waldau appear much taller than the actors alongside him.  However due to the rather flat framing choices this effect is less reminiscent of ancient murals of deities looming over their subjects than it is of those really awkward film posters created when none of the actors were available at the same time and the person photoshopping them in doesn't seem to understand how perspective or physical space works.

What the hell is going on here?
The coronation ceremony is interrupted by the late arrival of Osiris' brother Set who is shouted and flailed around ('played' being too subtle a word) by Gerard Butler.  At first everyone is pleased to see their long absent relative despite the fact that he wouldn't be any more clearly villainous if his name was Backstab O'Betrayerson and a demonic imp followed him around with a ghetto blaster blaring Diamond Head's 'Am I Evil?' wherever he goes.  In the least shocking plot twist ever Set stabs Osiris and crowns himself the new king of Egypt.  When Horus opposes him, Set fights him one on one, steals his eyes (apparently the gods can be taken apart and put together just like Lego models) and eventually his girlfriend (apparently the female characters in this film are merely objects to be bargained and/or rewarded to powerful men/gods rather than, you know, human beings with arcs of their own.)    Shortly after assuming power Set decides to enslave the humans to build a ludicrously giant obelisk in honour of himself for reasons that the scriptwriters never really explain (although I'm sure Sigmund Freud would have a few ideas why).  He also decides that from this point on the dead will only be allowed safely into the afterlife based on their level of worldly possessions.  Again, there is no obvious reason why Set, or his kingdom of Egypt, benefits at all from this ruling so it seems that he has decided to completely fuck over the poor and desperate for absolutely no gain or reason other than the simple joy of being cruel.
This picture just spontaneously reposted itself for some reason.
And so, after all this set up and exposition we finally get to the main plot.  Our 'hero' Bek must now find the now blind and depressed Horus, help him to regain his eyes and then his kingdom, defeating Set and freeing his deceased love from a fate beyond death.  The main thrust of the movie now comes from Horus as he learns to be humble and decent as he goes to war against Set and his legions of evil.
I'm not sure where they could've got the idea for Coster-Waldau playing a cocky, privileged
asshole forced to become a better person after losing his most celebrated body part
Unfortunately much of the runtime is instead spent on various dull side quests as Bek first must find Horus' eyes, then some sacred water which weakens Set's powers and then recruit allies to help fight alongside them.  Apparently all the gods are now at war with Set's forces and losing fast with many of them killed or tempted to his side in the process (why they didn't all just rush him during his fight with Horus at the start is, like so many questions I had during this film, never explained).  One of the Gods approached as a potential ally is Thoth, the god of knowledge who is played by Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman recently impressed me in Captain America: Civil War where he played the hero Black Panther with charisma and a strong sense of dignity and intelligence.  Here he has instead decided to play the wisest of the gods by Speaking. In. Pauses. Like. He's. William. Fucking. Shatner.  It's as odd as it sounds but at least it does give him some distinct character (something painfully lacking in this film) and the scenes that he is in are probably the most entertaining ones in the film. 

Overall the film is a massive mess of weird mythology, hastily abandoned subplots and simply perplexing choices.  (I haven't even mentioned the fact that the Gods can turn into giant badly rendered CGI robot animals which they sometimes, but perplexingly don't always, use to fight each other)  By the end of the film I was left with so many confusing questions that I barely knew where to start (why is Set's architect now also his high priest? Does Geoffrey Rush have a bathroom on his magic space boat?  Were all these costumes bought second hand from a Christmas pantomime?)

Oh no they weren't...
In many ways it reminded me of the equally batshit insane Jupiter Ascending which was one of my guilty pleasures from last year.  Unfortunately although I can admire the sheer ambition that went into Gods of Egypt and the range of high concept ideas that have been crammed into it's runtime I couldn't help but be bored more often than entertained by it.  Where a film like Jupiter Ascending threw itself fully into scenery chewing camp ridiculousness and give us loads of meme-worthy nonsense to play with (Eddie Redmayne's whisper shouting; Sean Bean playing a Bee?  Mila Kunis FUCKS DOGS?!) Gods Of Egypt still tries to take itself too seriously and it's attempts at charm and humour fall awkwardly flat.
Although the cast trying to portray serious drama while
looking like this is pretty funny, I'll admit
Overall the film ends up a convoluted mess of every single weird thought that seemed to run through director Alex Proyas' head.  I'd suggest that the film should maybe have hewn closer to the original mythology of ancient Egypt, but it is somehow even more insane as Horus apparently originally bested Set by wanking on his salad.  (Much like last years '50 Shades of Grey,' this may be one of the few instances where the inevitable porn parody is actually both more accurate to the source material than the film it is spoofing and probably as accomplished in plotting and dialogue.)
Remember kids, THIS was an international bestseller
Proyas is far from the most prolific of directors and after the strength of his 90s one-two punch of The Crow and Dark City many film fans wait for his returns to big budget filmmaking with the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ.  Sadly after sitting through the cringe inducing dialogue and endless dull action of Gods of Egypt I can't help but feel that faith in Alex Proyas as some sort of lost great visionary maybe will be lost in time much like the faith in the very gods this film is named after.

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