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Gods of Egypt – film review

March 10, 2016

GODS OF EGYPT

Visionary’s long-awaited epic is this year’s whipping boy.

Reviewed on Thursday 3rd March 2016

gods of egypt serpent riders

A US-Australian co-production. Directed by Alex Proyas. Written by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Rufus Sewell, Elodie Yung and Courtney Eaton. Running time: 127 mins.

A young slave enlists the help of a wounded god in order to rescue his beloved from the underworld. The two unlikely heroes embark on a perilous quest, facing many dangers.

It’s been a lengthy period of time between projects for visionary filmmaker Alex Proyas – seven years in fact since the release of his previous feature Knowing. And so it’s sad to see his latest offering has turned out to be this year’s whipping boy and (just like John Carter, Sucker Punch and The Lone Ranger before it) – an unwitting target of critical bandwagonism. Four years in the making, Gods of Egypt has conspicuously arrived amid an unprecedented amount of negative buzz surrounding its “ethnically inaccurate casting” (geez – who comes up with coining these heinous politically incorrect indiscretions?). Having deliberately stayed away from any information regarding the film prior to seeing it, I was completely unaware there even was an uproar. It was only through researching it after the fact that I came across this information – so, in a way, my experience with the film was completely unaffected by the hoopla surrounding it and therefore I was able to evaluate the film purely on its own merits. I find it curious that while no-one seemed to take issue with the predominantly fair-skinned cast of the cult hit 300 and its sequel, nor the Clash of the Titans remake and its sequel – there appears to be a concerted effort by the media to denigrate Proyas’ film as somehow scandalous and willfully anti-ethnic. Hey, if one wants to get really pedantic, let’s have a discussion about the way Christ has been depicted down through the ages – particularly in classical art. He’s not exactly the brown-skinned individual of middle-eastern appearance one would expect coming from this region. While I can appreciate there could be a perception of so-called ‘white-washing’ with regard to Gods of Egypt, as the film is quite clearly a fantasy (as opposed to an historical epic) – with no connection whatsoever to reality – this accusation doesn’t really stick in any meaningful way. Erroneously catagorized as     an ancient epic and loosely inspired by Egyptian mythology, Gods of Egypt makes     no attempt to adhere to the historical reality of Egypt; nor even the characters themselves as depicted in the myths. As Proyas pointed out in his defense – he merely used the wealth of material found in the myths as a basis in order to construct his own fantasy version of that world.

I wouldn’t say I ordinarilly gravitate toward sword and sandal fantasies if given a choice. If it were another director at the helm of Gods of Egypt, I would more than likely have given it a miss. However, being a long-time fan of Proyas’ since being fortunate enough to catch his surrealist 8 minute student film Strange Residues as     a supporting feature at the cinema in 1981, it’s no secret I look forward to every new film he puts out. Tonally, the bulk of Proyas’ previous output has tended towards the dark – especially with Knowing, The Crow and Dark City. Even his only comedy, Garage Days, features some dark aspects. So it comes as something of a surprise   to find the tone of his latest is far lighter than his previous works.

While it may take a little while to step into synch with the deliberately theatrical quality of the performances; once it dawns on us the film doesn’t take itself too seriously; then the fun kicks in. It makes sense that Proyas cites Raiders of the     Lost Ark as an influence, as the playful tone of Gods of Egypt is very similar to Spielberg’s classic; especially with regard to the amusing banter between the leads.

Ever since he had successfully persuaded New Line to allow him to shoot Dark City in his home town of Sydney, Alex Proyas has been a champion of the idea of bringing large-scale Hollywood productions back to Australia. And after the cringe-inducing debacle of I, Frankenstein a couple of years ago (which Proyas had zero involvement with I hasten to add), it’s nice to see proof positive that large scale fantasy projects can indeed be successfully made in this country. Proyas’ usual flare for visual integrity is very much in abundance here – thanks in no small part to Owen Patterson’s customarily evocative production design. And the big Dark City-like reveal showing the Egyptian region as a flat floating expanse in space definitely places the film in the realm of fantasy. Geoffrey Rush plays the sun god Ra, who, aboard his vessel high above the Earth, is charged with fending off attacks from the monstrous celestial beast known as Apophis ‘The Destroyer’ – a gigantic fanged maw determined to devour the land. Ra selects Set (Gerard Butler) as his replacement to take on the responsibility of protecting the Earth, however, Set shirks this responsibility; wanting only the power of everlasting life so that he may rule the world for all eternity; without ultimately being forced to ever face judgement in the afterlife. The terrible result of Set realizing his selfish desires is not only the unleashing of Apophis on the world, but also the breaching of the barriers which allow the dark forces of chaos to spill out from the underworld and begin poisoning the land.

gods of egypt brenton thwaites nikolaj coster-waldau

Proyas’ keen sense of geography makes the large scale action sequences easy to follow and nicely immersive; with the standout sequence being the one involving two giant cobra serpents attempting to take out our heroes Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). And while the amount of CG does threaten to overwhelm the senses at times, the potential onslaught is remarkably reigned in       by Proyas, so it doesn’t just degenerate into a crazed overstimulated confusion of pixels – as with many of today’s CG-heavy blockbusters. Overall, the numerous fight scenes are well-staged – although Proyas does tend to fall back on the over-used Matrix/300-style slow-motion circular tracking shot a little too readily.

Proyas reportedly enjoyed direct involvement in the creation of the story and development of the screenplay (at the studio’s behest) and the resulting script credited to writing team Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter) is fast-paced – if unremakable. Up-and-coming Aussie stars Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) and Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) are appealing leads. While Bryan Brown (arguably the closest we have to Australian acting royalty) appears shamelessly miscast here as Osiris and his jarring inclusion only smacks of stunt casting. But having said this; his inclusion isn’t nealy enough to derail the film to any serious extent.

I honestly hope all the alarming negativity currently being hurled at this film and the resulting box office failure won’t be nearly enough to deny us the possibility of more Alex Proyas movies to come; for the world of genre film would be a much lesser place if this were to happen.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, March 3rd 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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4 Comments
  1. Thanks for reviewing this one, I’ve barely heard anything about the actual plot of the film, just bad things about Bryan Brown! Looking forward to seeing it in the future.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Anne-Marie! Yeah, Bryan’s only in it for a couple of scenes – and he truly is miscast here. I find it sad the film has been virtually ignored by some of my favorite movie podcasts in North America. Perhaps when the film is released in the UK it may receive a little more love. 🙂

  2. Very interesting review Greg. I hadn’t heard of this film at all until the bad reviews started hitting the net. Yours is the first positive one I have read. Your comments on the ethic criticisms are spot-on, and yes like John Carter before it, theres a sense of it being fashionable to bash this film. Maybe it is a poor film, but at least your review has me curious to see for myself.

    To be honest if all film critics were fair and impartial, I think most modern films would get more hate such as this film has. Force Awakens seems to have gotten a free pass for some really bad storytelling and most modern films have bad casting and hole-ridden scripts covered up by big production values and cgi effects. Its just how things are now, and John Carter and The Lone Ranger were no worse than most. I like most of Proyas’ films (love Dark City) so will give this a shot with an open mind. Do hope this situation does not damage his career- I’d hate a visionary like him to go the way of the great Joe Dante.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Wow Ian – you almost made me cry. Yeah – this film has definitely been given the SHIT card. So sad – and I really am tired of being told what’s shit and what isn’t … I’d love to be given the opportunity to figure that out for myself.

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