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Gods of Egypt
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by Jay Seaver

"Strives for mythic, and is always at least eccentric."
3 stars

There is a not-unreasonable rule of thumb that says if you're ever going to see movies in 3D, it should be limited to ones that were shot and/or rendered that way. That's not bad advice, even if the post-conversion technology has improved by leaps and bounds since then and many movies shot flat are made with 3D in mind. Still, I think you'd miss something not seeing "Gods of Egypt" that way, not because it's done so well, but because there is a sort of wonderful silliness to seeing a movie that depicts the Earth as flat that way, and just going for it where silly things are concerned is this movie's strong suit, if only by default.

It is, after all, a movie that embraces the mythology in a literal enough sense to actually feature Ra (Geoffrey Rush) sailing a ship with the sun around the disc-shaped earth and fighting Apophis at every sunset, jams in a couple of plucky young mortals to serve as the audience's eye into this world, but is at its liveliest when it embraces the gods being basically human but larger than life in every way, especially their faults. It's a bumpy road at times - some of the first introductions to the gods are seeing Osiris (Bryan Brown) and Isis (Rachael Blake) at the ceremony meant to crown their son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) the new god-king of Egypt, and it's stilted; in particular, God of Knowledge Thoth (Chadwick Boseman) gives no hint of just how entertaining he will be when things circle back around to him.

Then Gerard Butler shows up as Set, God of the Desert, and if he's capable of being anything other than Gerard Butler, this isn't the movie where you'll see it. But that feels like just the kind of kick in the pants the movie needs as Set barrels in, kills his brother and then just starts taking everything for himself. It kicks the formality of the movie's exposition to the side and feels more natural than the kind of forced moments of humor where Horus is shown as a drunk while humans Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) banter in too-cute fashion. Once things start happening, though, it feels like the rest of the cast starts catching up to Butler, as we get to see the simple traits they're given at the beginning as part of what they do and how they do it - we get to see Horus & Hathor (Elodie Yung) as bickering estranged lovers rather than just be told there's something between them, while Bek & Zaya working toward a goal works in a way that "Zaya admonishes Bek for being an incorrigible thief with a smile" doesn't.

(Although the filmmakers rightly took some heat for not casting any middle-eastern/Egyptian actors and only giving a couple black people speaking roles, the way they come so close to doing something great with Zaya but miss big is perhaps the most frustrating problem with representation in the movie - she's set up as the film's greatest hero, a clever and literate mortal woman who, despite being a slave, is the one who figures out how to put things right, and her reward? Being sidelined so that the boys can play - literally waiting around in purgatory for them to finish and rescue her - and an apparent competition with Hathor to see whose costumes can push up the most cleavage while still maintaining the PG-13 rating.)

Having them do something also involves a fair amount of action, including an entertaining sequence or two which can basically be summed up as "you know how much fun those death-traps are when Indiana Jones is running through them? imagine what they were like when they were new!" Director Alex Proyas choreographs the FX-filled action scenes very nicely - that he has spent the last couple decades going a longer time than many between movies with disappointing scripts seems like a genuine waste of a guy who manages both style and clarity; he and his crew are excellent at making a scene seem dangerous even if it involves the characters being chased by giant fire-breathing snakes that could maybe use a few more rendering cycles.

If nothing else, Gods of Egypt seldom disappoints in terms of being a kick to look at, whether in two or three dimensions. The production designers seem to have a blast diving into Ancient Egyptian imagery and making sure that they preserve the color as well as the golden austerity, generally opting to push what the visual effects guys can do rather than cutting back when they have the choice, and not being afraid to go for something more modern when Horus uses his insanely powerful vision or the gods armor up in their animal forms (their depiction of the ka is more modern than traditional, but it's part of a sequence that is half whimsical and half gross). Indeed, it's when they scale back that the film becomes a little less exciting - early scenes emphasize that the gods are roughly eight or nine feet tall (relative to six-foot actors) and bleed gold, but it seems like this is de-emphasized later on, and while this emphasizes Bek's common ground with Horus, it hurts the grand scale of the story (see also: introducing a world-devouring monster and having it sort of do its thing in the background to a flying fist-fight).

There are a lot of other ways that "Gods of Egypt" lets down its more grandiose impulses, and it simultaneously takes liberties with the mythology while also speeding past bits with which many in the audience are likely not nearly as familiar as the writers seem to assume. That's the sort of thing that makes it kind of a standard-issue failed blockbuster, a lot of money thrown at something not quite amazing, but at least it stands out in its details and occasional audacity, and will probably get a spot on my shelf not just because I can't truly give up on the man who made "The Crow" and "Dark City", but because it is at least a different collection of fantastic images than everyone else is throwing out there.

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originally posted: 02/29/16 11:53:42
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User Comments

3/18/16 wini good story line but the movie is something too close to crap! 3 stars
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  26-Feb-2016 (PG-13)


  25-Feb-2016 (M)

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