Tuesday, March 8, 2016

This Movie's Got Sand: Gods of Egypt

Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt.

I don’t know the exact moment Gods of Egypt won me over. It might have been when Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) awakes amongst the remnants of last night’s orgy and we see that, like all gods, he’s twelve feet tall, with a giant-sized Jacuzzi to match. It might have been when it became clear that Gerard Butler (as desert god Set), in true Connery fashion, was going to make no effort whatsoever to mask his Scottish brogue. It might have been when we meet Ra (Geoffrey Rush), god of the sun and father of creation, who chills on his celestial catamaran, pulling the sun on a long chain over the edge of the flat, disc-shaped earth (and occasionally firing off a casual bolt from his laser spear at Apophis, the ever-encroaching demon-worm of chaos, represented by a cloud of swirling teeth and smoke). Or, honestly, it might have been watching the trailer, long before I sat down for the main event, which promised a perfect storm of unconscionable casting and absurd CG shenanigans, and delivered to a degree I never dared hope was possible. If those late-winter blues got you down, there is truly no better cure than a flamboyant, excessive, cocksure trashterpiece like this.

This is a vision of Egyptian mythology that has no use for your boring old museums and textbooks. Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) fashions a fantastical ancient Egypt where the gods are superheroic rockstars, living among their adoring mortal servants, with liquid gold running through their veins instead of blood. They transform at will into dazzling armoured falcon-robots and when they fight, they don’t use just fisticuffs – they duel in the sky with magic spears and glowing swords. The afterlife is treated like some kind of mythological nightclub, and when Butler’s Set rolls in during Horus’ coronation and kills his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown), he jacks up the cover fee, so that only those who can front the bill in jewellery and gold get access to that sweet eternal VIP section – leaving the unwashed masses out on the proverbial curb. Proyas caught some serious flak concerning the whitewashing of the cast – and it’s true, in 2016 a Swede and a Scot playing Egyptian deities is literally laughable – but the film’s tone, and the performances of its leads, sneakily sidestep this glaring issue. This is no Exodus: Gods and Kings, where gritty “realism” and Hollywood race-bending live side by side, and you’re asked to ignore it. Gods of Egypt dares you to care that Butler is ostensibly an Egyptian who sounds like a Scot (and looks like an unwashed potato) – his swaggering, maniacal performance is so in-tune with the film’s “screw it, we’re going for broke” mentality that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Brenton Thwaites in Gods of Egypt.

There are some fun hijinks surrounding Horus’ quest to avenge the death of his parents and unseat his uncle Set from the throne, as it involves the help of a mortal kid named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) who was a quick and clever enough thief to steal back one of Horus’ all-seeing eyes from Set’s trap-filled vault, after Set plucked them straight from Horus’ head. Bek risks these Indiana Jones-style pitfalls because he needs Horus’ help in resurrecting his beloved Zaya (Courtney Eaton, late of Fury Road ), whose soul is doomed to oblivion since she can’t pay Set’s exhorbitant price to enter the afterlife. The growing relationship between the irascible Horus and the peppy Bek is a fun one, especially because they both have ladies counting on them to win the day. Bek has Zaya, and Horus has Hathor, goddess of love (Elodie Yung), who stands out in this maelstrom of glitz and glory with a self-assured confidence that was immediately arresting. She’s doesn’t reach quite the same level of magnetic vampitude as, say, an Eva Green, but whether she’s teasing nerdy god Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), unable to lie, into admitting he prefers seeing her from behind, or seducing monstrous snake demons into killing themselves simply by batting her lashes, she’s a joy to watch. (She also has one of the best lines in the film, when Horus is grumbling that she had betrayed him for Set, and she gestures at her physique, incredulous: “You think I would waste this on someone who can’t see?”)

Gods of Egypt is completely singular: a bizarre creation, bouyed by its own sense of recklessness and its game-for-anything cast, that is also, shockingly, cohesive and compelling. Its surreal spin on familiar mythological material, which makes the banks of the Nile feel like the Las Vegas strip, is at once totally idiotic and utterly refreshing. Its dialogue is clunky and rife with cheesy one-liners, but its characters are likeable and motivated. It’s as though Proyas and the studio reached a strange understanding, wherein the film was fully expected to lose all its money and so Proyas was given free reign to let his adolescent fantasies play out however he wanted, free of focus-group meddling, on a multimillion dollar budget. The result is something so bright, so brash, and so bombastic that it can only be divisive: you will either hate every frame, or drink it all in with joyous abandon. No points for guessing which side I landed on.
– Justin Cummings is a writer, blogger, playwright, and graduate of Queen's University's English Language & Literature program. He has been an avid film buff, gamer, and industry commentator since his childhood cinema first installed an arcade. He is currently helping to make awesome games at Ubisoft Toronto, and continues to pursue a career in professional criticism.

1 comment:

  1. Encouraging review. I'll pass it on to my mother who loves all things Egyptian.