Monday 7 March 2016

Gods of Egypt | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Dumb. One-dimensional. Loved it.

If you like epic fantasy action films that seem conceived by seventh grade boys, then Gods of Egypt is for you. “Look, Johnny: you can remove the smartest god’s brain and it’s blue. It sparkles too. Then you can put it in your own head and you get smarter!”

The film wrings some of the residual cool from the ultra-violent and ultra-stylish 300 (2006)… even going so far as to reinvent that film’s star (Gerard Butler) as chief antagonist/bad boy god Set.

When you watch Gods of Egypt, directed by Alex Proyas, just let your brain go and indulge in a dumbed down smorgasbord of everything you need to tantalize the 12-year-old boy within: fights, acrobatics, shapeshifting, death traps, weapons, cleavage, capes, armor, and, most important, MONSTERS!

It even offers a He-Man cartoon style beat-you-over-the-head moral that what you do in this life matters… that good deeds and compassion trump power and vengeance.

The time is “before history began”, when Egyptian gods walked among their devotees. And how do we tell god from mortal? Easy: gods are twice the size of humans, of course!

Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), god of the sky and son of the beloved Osiris, spends his days partying with the goddess of love Hathor (Elodie Yung). Just as Horus is about to assume the crown, uncle Set (Butler), equipped with a lust for power and a Scottish accent, transforms into a metallic-looking animal, tears out Horus’s eyes (which become blue jewels), and then usurps the throne.

Horus loses his ability to fly and goes into hiding, but all is not lost: young human Bek plans to brave a booby-trapped path to steal back Horus’s eyes (at least one of them), then convince the god to defeat Set and assume his rightful position. Thus god (now sporting an eye patch) and human embark on a journey during which Horus’s ultimate objective will waver between vengeance and compassion.

In the meantime, the impulsive Set, exuding that Butlerian machismo, does all the things a 12-year-old boy would do. He builds a towering monument to his space-dwelling father Ra. He gets mad enough to chop off his own soldier’s head. He oppresses his people. His lust for power grows. “I cannot be fulfilled,” he tells his estranged wife Nepthys. Set even changes the admissions price to the afterworld: before it was good deeds; now it’s treasure.

In the film’s best scene, two gigantic fire-breathing snakes mounted by goddesses with serpent tongues – do you see the connection there? – pursue Horus and Bek. When the snakes first approach, one chooses to crash through some ruins when it could easily have gone around them. Destruction for destruction’s sake. Yay!

There are moments in the film that are quite humorous, particularly when the gods lose their cool. For instance, when Bek urges Horus to run faster during the snake pursuit, the god responds worriedly, “I can’t!” Even better: when Anubis discovers his underworld is under threat, the hitherto collected and eloquent god of death breaks into an “oh no!” performance that would make Scooby Doo proud.

Thankfully, the gods of Egypt aren’t above one liners. In the midst of battle, one enemy reminds Horus that he can no longer fly. “Neither can you,” he responds. You can guess the rest.

The juvenile way that the gods are portrayed also evokes a chuckle. For instance, when Horus visits his grandfather Ra’s solar ship (in outer space), we get a three minute reprieve during which Ra engages in his daily ritual of keeping a space-dwelling demon from destroying the earth. Here we have a top tier actor (Geoffrey Rush), wide-eyed and engulfed in digital flames, using a staff to shoot flame bursts at the gigantic creature.

But perhaps no god embodies the seventh grade mentality as well as Thoth, god of wisdom. To underscore his deep contemplations, he holds his hands behind his back and sometimes even holds a fist beneath his chin a la Rodin’s The Thinker. At one point, Thoth holds a bunch of leaf lettuce and mulls over “its essence, its mystery, its truth.” Horus rips it away and says, “It’s lettuce!”

So follow Horus’s example: don’t approach Gods of Egypt wearing your critic’s hat or seeking wisdom; just enjoy the crunchiness of a good action film. – Douglas J. Ogurek ****

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