Gods of Egypt Review – Ridiculous, Offensive and Tremendously Fun
Director Alex Proyas Has Zero Interest in Making a Film For Everyone: This Is Special Nerdery, Without Logic or Fact (or Diversity) As Guideposts
Guardian, 27 February 2016
3 / 5 stars
One day in 1983 my family spent a Saturday at a shopping mall in East Brunswick, New Jersey. I was young and easily bored, so my father took pity on me. My mom and sister kept shopping, and my dad took me to see 'Krull', a glorious, incoherent mess of a fantasy film, and it changed my life. Of all the movies I’ve seen since, maybe the the only one possessed by the same madness is 'Gods of Egypt'.
This is a special nerdery, different from Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, the recent (and unfairly dismissed) 'John Carter' or even, Gods protect us, Marvel’s 'Thor' films. Director Alex Proyas has zero interest in making a film for everyone: this is for the indoor kids who read the Fiend Folio from Dungeons and Dragons and not much else.
The film-maker has only the slightest interest in Egyptian mythology, just enough to know there were pyramids and obelisks, that the gods could transform into winged beasts, and that he can imagine busty women in bejeweled gowns roaming ancient palaces. This is an idiot’s guide to Egypt, and not coincidentally, plenty of people have noticed it has an almost entirely white cast.
But Proyas does not take logic or facts as his guideposts. He’s looking to Claudette Colbert, rolled-up in a carpet in Cecil B DeMille’s 'Cleopatra', from way back in 1934. Thus in Proyas’ movie a Scotsman (Gerard Butler)gleams in the CGI sun as Set, the god of the desert. A Dane is Horus (Nicholas Coster-Waldau), Australians are Ra and Osiris (Geoffrey Rush and Bryan Brown), and a Briton and yet another Australian the heroic mortals. Rufus Sewell plays an architect, Urshu, and Brenton Thwaites plays a plucky young thief, Bek. This is ridiculous. This is offensive. This shouldn’t be, and I’m not going to say otherwise if you can’t bring yourself to buy a ticket for this movie. But if you are on the fence you can always offset your karmic footprint with a donation to a charity, because this movie is a tremendous amount of fun.
Set, you see, attacks his nephew Horus just as his brother, king Osiris, is about to give him the crown. This all happens in front of an amphitheater a thousand times bigger than Wembley, but the stars aren’t mic’d up. Gods don’t need microphones! They are mighty, and much taller than the mortals who sometimes massage them in bathing pools. They bleed gold! When things get rough, they crouch and transform into birds or bulls or other amazing creatures. Set plucks out Osiris’ blue eyes and all the other gods kneel before him. Not even Donald Trump would be so brazen!
It gets rough for the Egyptians. The newly enslaved populace build an enormous tower, Set’s gift to his grandfather Ra. Set makes love to Hathor (Elodie Yung), the goddess of love, and flings open the curtains to regard the massive granite manifestation of his own masculinity. It’s one of many hilarious moments because Butler, never once dropping his Scottish accent, plays it absolutely straight.
Bek, our rapscallion narrator, is having a less fun, sneaking around to see the love of his life, a curvaceous fellow mortal named Zaya (Courtney Eaton). Zaya, as nubile as the Nile is long, remains a secret loyal subject to Horus, but is working in the offices of Set’s architect Urshu. She and Bek conspire to steal some secret plans, cross an Indiana Jones-like gantlet of traps, and grab one of Horus’ eyes. Maybe now Horus can rise up, defeat Set and let the young couple get a room.
Part of what sets 'Gods of Egypt' apart is the sheer number of fantastic and antic set pieces, with hardly a breath between them. Zaya ends up dead (but not too dead), so you can expect adventures with Anubis in the underworld. Bek and Horus join forces and travel to waterfall cliffs, red deserts and, for good measure, an orbiting space fortress where Ra battles nightly with Apophis, the god of darkness.
This sequence, a bit before the halfway mark, might be a point of no return for some viewers. A chariot pulled by giant flying scarabs is fun for everyone. But an interplanetary Geoffrey Rush, bald, in a glass boat and brandishing a flaming sword to beat back the essence of chaos – said essence portrayed as a raging intestine – is admittedly not for everyone. I must also admit, it is for me. Eyes nearly popping through 3D glasses, I wanted even more.
There’s not much in the way of rich characters, but there are a few human moments. Chadwick Boseman makes for nice comic relief as the witty Thoth, Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton are adorable and half-clothed, and Elodie Yung and Nicholas Coster-Waldau bicker nicely. They, too, are half-clothed.
There’s a half-baked moral somewhere in 'Gods of Egypt', which might come down to “be true”, or something. Proyas’ films, including 'Dark City' and 'Knowing', have always been on the edge of the mainstream, and are relentlessly true to his vision. This is considerably more fun than the Wachowskis, whose 'Jupiter Ascending' was another big-budget, psychedelic freakout – and a tableau of many dull patches.
'Gods of Egypt' keeps it moving – it’s far too ridiculous to do anything else. But when sexy serpent-tongued assassins (one white, one black) chase down our heroes riding enormous fire-breathing snakes, you’ll be thankful there hasn’t been too much talking.