Friday, February 26, 2016

I saw the Gods of Egypt...

Contrary to what the historic scrolls convey, ancient Egypt was once a place of perpetual, golden splendor, characterized by attractive entities (both mortal and immortal): a majestic, joyous realm in which one might forever remain, regardless of one's social status. However, invasion, conquest and enslavement seized that splendor, leaving only an intrepid few to regain what was taken

Such is the premise of Alex ("The Crow"/"Dark City"/"I, Robot") Proyas' "Gods of Egypt", a sprawling fantasy adventure, which takes the "paradise lost" concept to a maddening max, with the villainous Set, God of Darkness (Gerard Butler), seizing the land of lush sand and the brave mortal, Bek (Brenton "Maleficent" Thwaites) pursuing his lovely maiden, Zaya (Courtney "Fury Road" Eaton), whom the selfish deity has dispatched to the callous architect, Urshur (Rufus "Man in the High Castle" Sewell). One can only hope that poor Bek will get her back. 

Per Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless' kinetic script, Bek's mission is accompanied by the forlorn Horus (Nikolaj "Game of Thrones" Coster-Waldau), who meets defeat by his Uncle Set's hands, leaving the falcon-armored entity blind (his luminous orbs actually plucked from his head). Such a pity, since king-to-be Horus only wished to avenge his father, Osiris (Bryan "F/X" Brown), who was murdered before the masses by Set. Yeah, Set is one mean, power-hungry son of a gun, so much so that one wonders how anyone (god or human) could hope to impact his merciless might, but then one should never underestimate the power of resilience.  

Bek, for one, isn't afraid to mingle among the warring, twelve-foot, gold-blooded, shape-shifting gods, with or without Horus' help, though the disheveled god's alliance certainly offers leverage, once Bek journeys forth and miraculously returns to him at least partial sight. 

As the matter stands, other gods continue to haunt the desert realm, with Elodi "Elektra" Yung as Hathor (Horus' beloved companion); Chadwick Boseman as the analytical Thoth; and the always amazing and versatile Geoffrey Rush as the paternal, chaos-controlling Ra. They position themselves alongside one another (sometimes as friends, sometimes as foes), creating a sense of hierarchical upheaval, but the outward complexity of their stances is pretentious; for the story's backbone is one of basic good-vs-evil, or rather those-who-have-stolen against those-who-want-it-back . Shucks, now that I think of it, perhaps "Gods" isn't that thematically removed from George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead".

From another vantage, Bek's quest to squash Set's rule might be seen as a form of class warfare, but in truth, it's no more than the underdog theme rehashed, for against the odds, Bek eagerly confronts a force he can't possibly defeat. It doesn't take long for a David-and-Goliath theme to enter the story's enchanting thread (though one could argue a love motif equally presides, if only due to fair Zaya's lingering presence; she is, after all, the primary reason Bek puts his life on the line, even when she loses hers).

Costner-Waldau's Horus is as important as Bek in the heartbreak department, since he's lost as much as the mortal, if not more so, and that the god can yet conjure his strength to settle the score and reinstate "normalcy" to Egypt becomes the film's inspirational point. 

For the sake of nurturing excitement, Bek and Horus' task isn't confined solely to the terrestrial dimension. As they strive for victory, they enter Ra's celestial space: a visual transition which for a time, grants the movie a memorable "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-meets-"What Dreams May Come" feel. Otherwise, it's staggering, computerized monsters they face, which come and go among the sequences, much as would any number of strange creatures in any given "Flash Gordon", "Star Wars" or "Dune" installment. 

Some might argue that such contrivances twist "Gods" into an ancient-mythology knock-off of "Clash of the Titans" (either version); "The Immortals"; or "Stargate '94". On yet a larger scope, "Gods" is probably closest in tone to the recent DC/Marvel movies, in the way its characters majestically swoop into scenes and melees: a quality that will please some, though strike others as derivative. 

The same could be said of the casting, which for the most part does, indeed, work, even though the controversial and conspicuous component of Caucasians dominating the scene can't be denied. The familiar faces nonetheless recall Hollywood's golden age when the presence of certain performers guaranteed certain types of entertainment: a general courtesy, above all, to those willing to plop down their hard-earned cash to experience a guaranteed formula.

On this basis, Butler stands as the film's headlining presence, just as it was in such historical and/or imaginative entries as "Attila"; "300"; "Dracula 2000"; and Joel Schumacher's adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Phantom of the Opera". As Set, Butler is perfect: rough, shimmering and dashingly arrogant. (Coster-Waldau; Boseman; Rush; and Yung also do a swell job of complementing Butler's imposing persona.) And let's face it, a fantasy film is only ever as good as its villain, and in this instance, Butler more than delivers and therefore raises the film's essential conflict. 

"Gods" isn't poised to break box-office records or redefine the fantasy genre. At the end of the day, it stays true to its popcorn-movie format and for those who relish Egyptology (whether culled from fact or fiction), this one will act as a veritable, if not inconsequential feast for the senses. Take it for what you will and if at all possible, enjoy it for what it is. 

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