Overview: A devil-may-care thief teams up with a fallen Egyptian God for revenge, love, and a restoration of order in the kingdom, the world, the universe, and existence. Yep. All that. Lionsgate; 2016; PG-13: 127 Minutes.
The Gods (of Egypt‘s Director) Must Be Crazy: In 1994, Alex Proyas made the stylistically impressive and the then-beloved film The Crow for roughly 15 million dollars. For just a little more– 27 million dollars– Proyas followed up with Dark City in 1998, and, though it has fallen in and out of critical adoration over the last two decades, the film’s combination of film noir and high-minded sci-fi stands as one of the most inventive cinematic products of that decade. Proyas made the under-appreciated Knowing for 50 million and I-Robot was made for 12o million. Even at his storytelling worst (which has never been bad), Proyas’ films have always looked at least very good and, at best, mesmerizing. That’s why it’s so baffling to discover that the aesthetic value of Gods of Egypt, Proyas’ newest and most expensive film to date, can only be described as “absurd.” But to be fair, the application of this single-word assessment has to be measured before we can arrive at a fair evaluation of the film.
“Why would I waste this on someone who can’t see?”: Nothing about Gods of Egypt looks real. From the first fight scene, when the brutally and unnecessarily white-washed godhero (Horus played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and villain (Set played by Gerard Butler) take the form of some indistinguishable golden robotic beasts, it is clear the film holds no ambition toward creating fantasy-based visual effects that can be interpreted as organic extensions of our reality. It all quickly becomes hammy, cartoonish, and completely, recklesly, and somewhat brilliantly unlike anything standard in blockbusters today. Late in the film, Hathor (Elodie Yung) tells Horus “Why would I waste this on someone who can’t see?” and, given the stale, standardized way in which big budget action and fantasy sequences have manifested in like-minded films over the past decade and a half, that is kind of the question that Gods of Egypt dares us to ask. The effects are always absurd and unrealistic, but that does not mean they are not audacious on a more conceptual level. They just break the current rules, and we have to think that’s by design given the filmmaker’s history of visionary construct, even if transferring credit from past films to current projects makes for a slippery critical slope.
The Lawlessness of Gods: Because really, that’s how Proyas approaches the entire project, with a complete disregard for rules and laws. The laws of physics, the rules of narrative, the guiding and documented staples of Egyptian mythology, the hard fixed rules of geography, even the rules of the logic that the movie makes up as it goes along– every rule is broken. The entire scope of this film seems to be its own reckless establishment of cinematic delirium. It’s an incomparable and improvised film language, one that’s at least continually transfixing and engaging, so much so that I didn’t really have a “Wait, what?” moment until the very final act, when (SPOILER) the sun god Ra, played by a constantly flaming (literally flaming) Geoffrey Rush goes to battle with a giant worm made of infinite teeth that worked as a vacuum to destroy reality (SPOILER OVER). By that point, my “Wait, what?” was a collected astonishment, in reference to all of the giddy insanity that had unfolded in every scene previous.
Overall: Gods of Egypt is an unexpectedly weird movie, but one whose audaciousness I expect will find even more value in later, less perplexed viewings.