Saturday, March 5, 2016

'Gods of Egypt' review

I gotta give Gods of Egypt points for trying. Because while it is a total visual and narrative failure, it is unlike any film I've ever seen. Almost flabbergasting in its bizarre absurdity, Alex Proyas' film takes us on a journey to an Ancient Egypt where Gerard Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are 10-foot tall gods who can suddenly transform into magical gold warriors. Oh, and Geoffrey Rush lives on a space station in the sky. When I say this movie is weird, I mean it. But on top of being weird, Gods of Egypt is a narrative puzzle, with thinly-drawn characters, a nonsensical storyline and a complex mythology that makes no sense. Couple that with the overabundance of CGI, the fact that the movie feels like it's constantly fighting between three different stylistic tones, and a super-extended running time and voila, you have a film that is generally awful. And yet, it'd be wrong for me to say that I didn't get some odd sense of amusement at watching this whole mess unfold.

Gods of Egypt is about.......well, it's about things. There is a plot in Gods of Egypt, it's just not one that makes a whole lot of sense. The movie begins with the coronation of Horus (Coster-Waldau), who is set to take over for Osiris (Bryan Brown) as the king of Egypt. The ceremony is interrupted by Set (Butler), who at first comes bearing gifts for the new king. But soon, Set reveals his true intentions- kill Osiris, injure Horus and take over Egypt. Set succeeds, removing the all-powerful eyes of Horus and solidifying his place as the rightful ruler of Egypt. The kingdom falls into chaos as Set's extravagance and violent rule put the Egyptian people into slavery. Horus retreats to a cave, away from the rest of civilization, abandoning his people and his rightful position as the King of Egypt.

On the other side of the fence, there's a mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites). He's pretty much a whiter version of Aladdin. He steals things and has a really pretty girlfriend (Courtney Eaton) who he loves. When Set takes over, Zaya (Bek's girlfriend) is forced into slavery, leaving Bek to try to find a way to set her free. So he goes to Set's tomb/lair/place where he keeps Horus' eyes, and he steals one of them. He manages to free Zaya, but while they're riding off, her captor (Rufus Sewell) shoots and kills her. Bek takes her to Horus and begs him to save her, yet by then, it's too late. To save Egypt and Zaya, Bek and Horus must team up and take down Set once and for all.

There's only so much disdain I can show for a movie where Geoffrey Rush, playing the Sun God, turns into a practical Giant Man from his Egyptian space station and shoots a monster with an elongated version of Loki's scepter. How can I not be a little amazed? Not only by the fact that the filmmakers pulled it off, but the fact that someone decided it was a good idea to give them $140 million to make it work. In a few years, this movie will become legendary for its sheer lunacy and bravado. It's a swords and sandals epic, but it's also a science fiction movie, and there are so many scenes where you'll probably catch yourself thinking "Who the hell came up with this?" The visual effects are simultaneously unconvincing and immersive, creating a 3D experience that is bizarre and overstimulating.

But despite the sheer visual insanity of Gods of Egypt, I was incredibly bored while watching this film. I was bored because I didn't care about a single one of the characters. I was bored because the film is overlong to an absurd extent. And most of all, I was bored because the plot is tediously rote, mashing the usual Joseph Campbell mythology with a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy sensibility that doesn't work in any way. Gods of Egypt is currently sitting at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and 23 on Metacritic. This film doesn't deserve that. Because while it's certainly not good, it's an interesting failure at the least. The director of the film, Alex Proyas, went on a bit of a rant last week calling out critics for what he considered to be unfair and deplorable behavior against his film, referring to them as "diseased vultures." Part of that makes me want to lay into this film with everything I've got. Instead, I'm going to maintain the set of critical principles that I've always had- review a film wholly and honestly, analyzing what works and what doesn't.

Proyas sets up an incredibly interesting world in this film. The Egypt displayed in Gods of Egypt is massively overwhelming and huge- giant pyramids, skyscrapers, vast desert landscapes. The problem is that he adds to that scope with enough green screen to drive George Lucas insane. Instead of being filled with amazement and wonder, I felt exhausted- the screen is constantly busy and it's tiring after a while. It's almost video game-esque in style and while it allows for Proyas to explore some cool filmmaking techniques, it's just too much. More does not equal better, and despite the fact that the initial conceit of the film is cool, the overcrowding and sheer density becomes ridiculous.

Even with its visual flaws, the Achilles heel of Gods of Egypt comes in the form of the story and the characters. Y'know, two things that are kinda important. The plot is both overly simple and convoluted as all hell, mixing high fantasy and basic storytelling in a way that falls flat. There are so many MacGuffins in Gods of Egypt that lead nowhere and so many things that are left unexplained that it's just frustrating at a point. Look, I didn't expect too much of a plot, but I was constantly asking myself questions like "Wait, why are they going there?" or "Why is this happening?" or "What is that thing?" It's a movie that just doesn't make sense cohesive sense when it boils down to it.

That misstep is punctuated by the fact that we know nothing about a majority of the characters- they're loosely defined and even more thinly drawn. Their motivations are shady and their traits are non-existent and ultimately, this is the film's downfall. The film lacks a clear main character, someone for the audience to connect to throughout this journey. Is it supposed to be Bek, the plucky mortal who is good at everything for no reason and constantly ready to spout off all kinds of witticisms? Is it Horus, the egotistical god that forms the basic plot of the movie? I don't know, and I don't think the movie particularly cares. The villainous Set is clearly the bad guy, but his scheme is so dumb that you're just left scratching your head. Other characters pop in and out, leaving this messy film with a sprawling ensemble of stock characters that the audience just doesn't know or care about.

I will always have some admiration for a film cut from original cloth. In a world dominated by superheroes and franchises, I think it's noble for any studio or any filmmaker to make a unique big-budget movie that takes risks and doesn't play it safe. But that sense of loyalty to original films only stretches so far. Gods of Egypt is interesting in that it tries new things and explores new genre mash-ups, which can sometimes make it a maniacal pleasure to watch. But it's also nearly indefensible. On almost all basic filmmaking levels, from story cohesion to character development, it just does not work. If there's one lesson to learn from this film, it's that more does not always equal more. Gods of Egypt may be humongous in scale, but it's utterly forgettable because it skips the basic levels of storytelling. In the ironic words of George Lucas: "A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing."

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                                (5/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Guardian, Screen Rant, Telegraph, Joblo

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