Saturday, February 27, 2016

False Idols: GODS OF EGYPT

A big, lumbering, gaudy, gold-plated fantasy set in Ancient Egypt, Gods of Egypt is a modest collection of oddball flourishes buried under an explosion of convention and generic effects. It’s idiosyncratic in all the small details, but overblown and undercooked in the broad sweep of its tedious and predictable quest narrative. Behind this eccentric production is Alex Proyas, a director of blockbusters who brings such total commitment to his ideas that you have to admire the force of his personality shining through, no matter what you think of the end results. He’s given us the death-haunted pop Goth The Crow, the sci-fi noir Dark City, the popcorn tech ethicist actioner I, Robot, and the genuinely apocalyptic disaster conspiracy picture Knowing. Those are nothing if not big swings. But they can’t all connect big, hence his latest. Gods of Egypt is his worst, but only because it clearly got away from everyone involved, a mess of ideas and impulses at which a studio kept throwing money when a comprehensive rewrite would’ve been a better idea.

The film finds Egypt ruled by its Gods, towering gold-blooded giants who demand the praise and obedience of their small, humble mortal subjects. Lazy Horus (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is about to ascend to the throne when his Uncle Set (300’s Gerard Butler) takes the crown for himself. To add injury to insult, Set plucks out Horus’ diamond eyes and locks them in a vault. This casts the land into a villainous darkness that should be familiar to anyone who has seen this sort of thing before. The plot proper kicks off when a spirited human thief (Brenton Thwaites, playing the thin, pretty, bland hero) makes a deal with Horus. If he gets the God his eyes, then the God must find a way to save the poor boy’s grievously wounded One True Love (Courtney Eaton in gowns cut for maximum cleavage) from the clutches of the underworld. That’s all pro forma fantasy nonsense. The real glorious goofiness is in the details.

This is a movie in which a bald Geoffrey Rush pulls the sun across the flat Earth’s sky in a boat floating above the atmosphere, stopping periodically to do battle with a ginormous space worm. It features magic immortals who can turn into grotesque cartoony animals or extrude armored plates from their skin like Egyptian Transformers. It has Chadwick Boseman as an egotistical know-it-all God who clones himself a hundred times over, and Elodie Yung as a Goddess who can find anyone with magic sand, provided her magic bracelet keeps her literal demons at bay. There are waterfalls from outer space, Rubik cube pyramid puzzles, a crumbling sentient Sphinx, a flying chariot pulled by giant scarabs, and a days-long line of deceased souls ready to blissfully commune with a pulsing energy they call the afterlife. This is all pleasantly straight-faced odd, a mix between high fantasy and low cornball camp. Proyas takes the mythology just seriously enough, and stages some fun sequences, like two massive fire-breathing snakes attacking our heroes, or thundering fisticuffs atop a 2,000-cubit high obelisk.

But the screenplay by Dracula Untold’s Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless makes a miscalculation in becoming one of those fantasy stories that spends more time filling us in on its rules, caveats, backstory, prophecies, curses, and other assorted gobs of tedious exposition than in actually running through its main story. As a result the brightly lit movie feels endless and consequence free, since the magic is arbitrary and prone to change (with laborious explanation) if the next scene calls for it. There’s no weight. Add to this a feeling of a salvage job, with mismatched scenes, awkward jumps in logic, and plot holes papered over with afterthought narration and incessant tin-eared exposition, and the whole thing starts giving off a whiff of sloppiness. I mean, this is an Egyptology fantasy with a cast of Brits, Americans, Danes, Aussies, anyone but an actual Egyptian. (Butler’s brogue has to be the least fitting Cairo speaking voice since Edward G. Robinson’s in The Ten Commandments.) This is a clearly a movie that’s the product of an interesting directorial imagination hobbled by more than a few unfortunate decisions. 

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