Monday, February 29, 2016

GODS OF EGYPT (2016)

Originally published in Cinema Knife Fight, February 29, 2016


Review by L.L. Soares and special guest Dan Keohane

(THE SCENE: A vast auditorium. The Egyptian God OSIRIS is holding up a golden crown)

OSIRIS: And now I announce the new King of Egypt, Dan Keohane.

(People cheer as DAN KEOHANE prepares to be crowned)

VOICE: Wait just a minute!

(A giant mechanical bull with the voice of L.L. SOARES enters the room and begins trashing the stage)

DK: Uh, oh.

LS: We’re going to have to postpone your coronation, King Daniel! You and I have a movie review to do.

OSIRIS: How dare you interrupt this ceremony??

LS: Get over it, brother. (Stabs OSIRIS in the belly – OSIRIS stumbles back, bleeding gold). This week’s big movie is the fantasy flick GODS OF EGYPT. Kind of like a cross between a superhero movie and CLASH OF THE TITANS.

DK: I have to admit, my expectations were quite low going in to this one. From the trailer it looked like more of the same, reshaped just enough to warrant a new name.

(DK suddenly reshapes into a giant metallic bird and there is a loud clang as the two metal monsters battle it out— while continuing with the movie review.)

LS: So, it’s ancient Egypt, folks, and the Egyptian gods rule over their human subjects. In fact, they also live among them. For some reason, Egypt must have been a lot bigger back then, because we don’t hear about any other countries. Unlike mythological gods like Thor, who lives with in Asgard, these Egyptian dudes want to get real up and close and personal with their subjects.

DK: Right off the bat, this is an aspect of the movie I actually thought was cool. They built the physicality of the world around the perspective of Egyptians and their mythology—for example, what if the planet looked, literally, as described or believed to be like by the people of the time? The earth is flat, then drops off after all known territory ends. On the underside is, well, the underworld.

LS: It all begins with the King of the Egyptian Gods, Osiris (Bryan Brown, the Australian actor who was previously in the classic war movie, BREAKER MORANT, 1980, as well as F/X, 1986, and the Tom Cruise “classic” COCKTAIL, 1988) is about to pass on his crown to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jaime Lannister, one of my favorite characters from the HBO series GAME OF THRONES).

DK: So what do ancient gods do when they retire, anyway? We learn as the story goes on that they are not immortal, but is there a retirement community somewhere they head off to? Maybe there’s a Golf Course of the Gods he planned to spend his time at.

LS: Osiris’s brother, Set (Gerard Butler, also the star of 300, 2006, and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, 2013) shows up, and he’s pissed. Not only does Set ruin the ceremony, he gut-stabs Osiris and fights his nephew Horus almost to death, badly beating the guy in front of everyone and yanking out his eyeballs! Set then proclaims himself King of the Gods, and King of Egypt. And everyone is too afraid to contradict him.

There’s a brave human in the mix named Bek (Brenton Thwaites, also in OCULUS, 2013, THE SIGNAL, 2014, and MALEFICENT, also 2014).

DK: That’s where he’s from! I didn’t want to annoy the other moviegoers and look it up on IMDB during the movie.

(The musician BECK comes onstage and the people cheer)

BECK: Did someone call me? I’m all ready to put on a great show.

LS: No, sadly, you’re not the Bek we’re talking about. The dude in GODS OF EGYPT is the stupid human sidekick character, and he doesn’t make music.

BECK: Not even two turntables and a microphone?

LS: Not even close.

DK: That’s music? More like Tourettes with a beat.

LS: I’m guessing Dan’s not a fan.

BECK: So this isn’t a concert stage?

DK: Nope, this is ancient Egypt. We don’t even have electricity yet.

LS: Sorry, dude, we don’t have time to chat. We have to get on with the review. (Gut-stabs BECK and tosses him into the audience)

DK: That was harsh.

LS: I know. And I like his music. But we’ve got a review to finish.

Anyway, the narrator of the movie is supposed to be an older version of Bek, telling us about his carefree youth, helping Horus reclaim his throne. I hate narrators.

DK: When telling the story, either to catch us up the plot or transitioning after a gap in time, the narrator is trying to be humorous. Unlike his younger self, this older Bek sounds like he thinks everything we’re about to watch is silly. Kind of takes you out of the story a bit.

LS: Can you blame him? Everything we’re about to watch is silly.

So Bek becomes a sidekick of sorts to Horus after he steals back one of the guy’s eyeballs and returns it to him. Horus has been in exile, licking his wounds, but now that he can see, he puts a big old eye patch over his other eyehole and puts his plan in motion to get revenge on Uncle Set.

DK: Sort of an Egyptian Snake Plissken. This is the main thrust of the film, and the interplay between Bek and Horus is good, I think. Especially considering in the beginning Bek and all the other humans bow down in a sort of loving homage to these creatures. As they begin working together—Bek hoping to save his girlfriend from the underworld by getting his favorite god back in power, and Horus wanting all his stuff back (first and foremost, his other eye).

LS: Along the way, we meet Horus’s grandfather, the Sun God Ra (Geoffrey Rush, who seems sort of miscast here, he was previously in SHINE, 1996, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, 1998, and played Captain Barbossa in the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movies.), who floats in space on a big sailing vessel and has a flaming spear. He also has to fight some big toothy cloud monster every night in order to bring forth each new dawn.

DK: Geoffrey Rush is a great character actor, but now that you say it, it was a bit of a letdown when we meet the famous sun god Ra and it’s Captain Barbossa. I expected someone a little more… intimidating? That being said, I enjoyed the visual aspect of Ra’s little sunshine tow-barge. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of Ra (like many other ancient myths of a god controlling the rising and setting of the sun) towing the sun behind him on a long cable was fun to see.

LS: It wasn’t that much fun. Ra is supposed to be a mighty character, the first of the gods, and played by Rush, he seems like a buffoon. Total letdown for fans of the Sun God, man. And letdown for fans of Rush, who started out in some pretty terrific movies and now has to be in stuff like this movie and the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN crap.

There’s also Thoth, the God of Knowledge, played by Chadwick Boseman (who also played Jackie Robinson in 42, 2013, James Brown in GET ON UP, 2014, and is set to play T’Challa, the Black Panther in some upcoming Marvel superhero movies, starting with this year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR), who is so wrapped up in himself, he even created the world’s very first clones—a whole army of himself to help him record all the world’s knowledge. Horus needs him to answer the riddle of the Sphinx, something we don’t need to go into here. I thought Thoth was one of the better characters, but they don’t do that much with him.

Of course, our two heroes also have love interests.

DK: Of course. Can’t make a movie without a love interest in it somewhere. So Sayeth Hollywood.

LS: Sure you can.  But in a movie about ancient gods, you have to have some kind of sex angle. The gods were horny bastards!

DK: True, especially the minotaurs who served as Set’s heavies early on. Ha ha ha. Ohh, I kill myself.

LS: (Sigh.) Horus has the Egyptian Goddess of Love, Hathor (Elodie Yung, also in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, 2013, and who will be playing Elektra Natchios in Season Two of the Netflix series DAREDEVIL) and Bek has Zaya (Courtney Eaton, previously in last year’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, where she played “Cheedo the Fragile”).

DK: Which one was Cheedo the Fragile? After seeing Eaton in this movie, I would think I’d have remembered her in MAD MAX. She’s kind of hard to forget.

LS: Yeah. I feel the same way. I’ll have to watch FURY ROAD again sometime. Eaton is very striking, and definitely memorable here, considering how forgettable most of this movie is. But her character is another underdeveloped one, and I’m not really sure what she sees in the lame-ass Bek, our “human surrogate” of the story.

At least Hathor is allowed to have a real personality. As played by Yung, she was actually my favorite character in the movie. Willing to give up everything in the name of love, since she is the goddess of it, after all. Hathor was the coolest of the gods in this movie, in my opinion. At least she wasn’t all macho posturing like most of them.

DK: I agree, hers was the most fleshed-out of the characters in the film.

LS: When Bek’s girlfriend Zaya dies and he wants to rescue her from the underworld, he hopes to get Horus to help him fix this, once the dude gets his crown back and becomes King of the Gods again. Coincidentally, Horus himself had to go down to the death realm once before to rescue his girlfriend Hathor, back when she was not the Goddess of Love as she is now, but “Mistress of the West,” basically a go-between for the world of the living and the dead.

DK: Yea, there’s a backstory with Hathor and the underworld which is lightly touched upon and sounds like it could be an entire film on its own.

LS: Yeah, probably a better movie!

DK: There’s a lot of that here—a chance to get deeper into each character and their past, but run time, and audience attention-span, wouldn’t allow it.

LS: Neither would the lame script.

DK: The same with Set’s history of being the god of the desert, living in the wastelands outside of Egypt. It’s what drove him to take the throne for himself, but whatever happened out there in the sand dunes is not really explained.

LS: The afterlife is presided over by another Egyptian god, Anubis (a CGI character voiced by Goran D. Kleut). We last saw a CGI Anubis in the 2014 found-footage horror movie THE PYRAMID (2014).

DK: Missed that one. Of all the characters, Anubis was the least interesting, probably because he was all CGI. Been done to death (pun intended). Still, he was rendered pretty well, and the filmmakers gave him some decent lines (rather than just, “Rooaaarrr, grr, grr”).

LS: I’m actually a big Anubis fan, but you’re right, there’s not much to him here. He could have been fleshed out a lot more, but then again so could have most of the non-CGI (the “real” flesh) characters.

Overall, it’s a decent enough cast, even though Gerard Butler seems kind of bored most of the time as Set (he was probably wondering “Do I have to be in all these ancient times action movies?”), and he and Geoffrey Rush seem especially miscast here. There is nothing intimidating about a flaming Geoffrey Rush pointing his spear at you as Ra.

DK: Hah, yea, I thought the same thing. Rush looked like an old man who’d accidentally spilled lighter fluid all over himself trying to get the barbeque going, even though his wife TOLD him to let the grandkids handle it and now you’ve got yourself all on fire, you old coot! …sorry, where were we?

LS (laughs): Exactly. Hard to take him too seriously. And no matter how much I like Nicoklaj Coster-Waldau, even he seems sort of miscast here as Horus, since there’s nothing very Egyptian about him.

DK: Yes, because the rest of the cast looks so Egyptian! (laughs) Well, the two female love interests kind of do. But Set and Horus seem to have just stepped off an old surfer bro film.

LS: In fact, none of these “gods” seem like characters from Egyptian mythology. They all seem more like an offshoot of THE AVENGERS (There was a storyline once in Thor comics, years back, where he interacted with the various Egyptian gods, so it’s not that far-fetched!).

DK: Speaking of Thor, Horus’s “quest” in the film is reminiscent of Thor’s—having to go through some kind of trial and adventure in order to prove himself worthy of being king. Been there, seen that.

LS: Totally. The Egyptian gods here look like people, except they’re bigger and taller than mortal humans. They also can transform into giant metallic eagles and bulls and stuff. I’m not sure why.

DK: Egyptian Transformers!

LS: Wow, you’re right! That explains it!

DK: This aspect was a bit silly, but I suppose they felt the need to give the gods superpowers. It might have worked as well with them simply being stronger and able to heal faster. What with them being gods and all.

Ancient hieroglyphics, and depictions of the gods from back in that day were the basis for how they portrayed the god characters. Horus might have been depicted both as a large man or a winged BIRDMAN (2014)… no, not that birdman (though he was close) on some pyramid wall, so they gave him bird-transformation powers.

LS: The whole thing just seemed incredibly weak to me. If it had stuck closer to the real mythology, it would have been a lot more interesting. It also would have been a lot more violent, since these gods were totally into murder and mutilation. And since this is a PG-13 movie, there’s no sex or real gore allowed. Even the gods bleed golden blood, so that it’s not too disturbing. When they bleed, it just looks like they got splashed with a pail of gold paint.

DK: They did! (Fourth wall be damned, I say!)

LS: GODS OF EGYPT is definitely of the same genre as movies as 300, CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), and Tarsem Singh’s IMMORTALS (2011). It was directed by Alex Proyas, a director whose work I have liked a lot. He previously directed such movies as THE CROW (1994) and DARK CITY (1998), both of which have come to be regarded as classics of their kind. But he also gave us the Will Smith movie I, ROBOT (2004) and the Nicolas Cage movie KNOWING (2009). Like the aforementioned Tarsem, Proyas has a big, very visual style, that in some ways makes him a natural for a movie like this. Except that the script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (who previously worked on the underwhelming screenplays for DRACULA UNTOLD, 2014, and THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, 2015), isn’t very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful.

DK: The visual aspect of GODS OF EGYPT was something that impressed me. I’ve already mentioned the representation of the characters’ universe in the film, flat earth, Ra’s boat towing the sun and all that. But unlike films like CLASH OF THE TITANS or IMMORTALS, this one is—how do I say it—brighter. Too many times CGI-laden, mythology-based films are visually dark, relying on stormy skies and night scenes to hide some of the visual holes and blemishes under the rug. This movie takes place primarily in bright daylight, and the world they’ve drawn (both on the computer and matte artwork) is stunning.

LS: Not that stunning. As a fan of mythology, especially the Egyptian variety, I know there’s a lot of potential there for a great fantasy movie, but GODS OF EGYPT isn’t it. It plays fast and loose with the original stories, and I found it to be incredibly predictable and homogenized, and downright boring at times. And the CGI effects, for the most part—like the metallic monsters the gods transform into—look really cheesy, which is especially sad when you think that it cost about $140 million to make.

DK: I agree that the transformation sequences especially were pretty cheesy. Some of the fight scenes, too—at least when they fought as robot birds. However, I went into this film with such low expectations, I don’t think I hated it as much as you.

LS: Believe me, I went in with low expectations, as well. But with Proyas directing, I thought there was a ray of hope that this one could be better. But he hasn’t made a good movie since DARK CITY, so that hope was misplaced.

DK: Yes, it takes a lot of liberty with ancient mythology, but the buddy-cop-team-up of Bek and Horus actually worked for me. I have no idea why, except that it added a little humanity and humor to it all. When the CGI got too much, you could see it, and that’s distracting. How many times will filmmakers make monsters that have rotating sets of teeth trying to devour the world, from the smoky Chaos monster of this movie to the mechanized snake-teeth mounts in THE AVENGERS (2012)?

LS: I went in hoping to at least have a fun time with it, but for the most part, GODS OF EGYPT is a pretty forgettable entry in the big-budget mythology genre. Between the lousy script and the lame CGI effects, I, for one, was really disappointed. I give it one and a half knives.

DK: Not being a fan myself of the earlier films in this genre, like IMMORTALS…

LS: IMMORTALS is completely underrated, and better than this and the CLASH OF THE TITANS movies!

DK:  I am a fan of Proyas’ earlier works. Unlike you, I actually enjoyed I, ROBOT (even with its complete revising of the source material) and KNOWING. GODS OF EGYPT is exactly what it advertised, humans and gods battling for the fate of the world. Nothing new there.

LS: “Nothing new here” is totally what’s wrong with it!

DK: However, they took what could have been a two-hour snooze-fest and added just enough twists and humanity (with the gods and humans) to old tropes to make it interesting. I never thought I’d say this, but I almost liked the film. It tried new things, and built a world that took itself seriously (liberties with the source myths notwithstanding). In some ways it was reminiscent of the films that revitalized this sub-genre off back in the 90’s, like THE MUMMY (1999). Serious, but with some humor (as long as not too much) to lighten the air a little. I’m actually giving it two and a half knives.

LS: Well, I thought it was a snooze-fest at times. I almost nodded off once or twice in the middle of it. Osiris, Horus, and the gang deserved a lot better.

DK: So that’s it, we’re done with the review? Can I go back to being crowned King now?

LS: Ah, what the hell. I’ve got other stuff I’d rather be doing anyway. Knock yourself out.

VOICE: Stop! No one is being crowned king today! No one but me!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the great hall, glowing and with giant wings. Humans scream and run in all directions.)

LS: Now that’s someone who is just begging to be gut-stabbed.

DK (to the audience): This might be a good time to sneak out of here.

(LS transforms into a giant metallic bull again and charges straight at MA)

(FADE TO BLACK)

© Copyright 2016 by L.L. Soares and Daniel G. Keohane

L.L. Soares gives GODS OF EGYPT ~ one and a half knives!

Dan Keohane gives GODS OF EGYPT ~ two and a half knives!