Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Hollywood has always suffered from a jaundiced perception of reality that creates discontent about its films, and “Dark City” director Alexis Proyas’ superficial sword & sorcery saga “Gods of Egypt” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) is the latest casualty. Anybody who followed the pre-release controversy surrounding this $140 million spectacle about Egyptian mythology knows that the pillars of political correctitude have criticized it savagely it for its largely all-white cast. Comparably, “Alien” director Ridley Scott contended with the same criticism of his Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” for its essentially Caucasian cast. Scott claimed he couldn’t find bankable actors of color or ethnicity to portray his characters so his film could recoup its multi-million dollar budget. “Gods of Egypt” director Alexis Proyas and Summit Entertainment, the studio that released this 127 minute extravaganza, apologized about their whitewashed cast before the film’s release. Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time Hollywood has clashed with the politically correct about casting the appropriate actor and actress. Most recently, the botched fairy-tale fantasy “Pan” cast Mara Rooney as a Native American character when she was anything but Native American. Films better and worse than “Gods of Egypt” have drawn flak from the Politically Correct fraction. “Birth of a Nation,” “Cleopatra,” “Prince of Persia,” “Argo,” and “A Beautiful Mind” exemplify popular Hollywood films that violated the tenets of political correctness. Casting celebrity actors rather than unknown native counterparts to attract audiences is the primary reason. Clark Gable was far from British when he starred in “Mutiny on the Bounty” back in 1935. Of course, a British actor would have been more credible, but Hollywood wanted a genuine star instead of an authentic Englishman. John Wayne was miscast as the Asian warlord Genghis Khan when he appeared in "The Conqueror" in 1956. Hollywood concerns itself about making money more than abiding by political correctness. Occasionally, however, a Hollywood producer appeared, like Mel Gibson, who defied traditional casting protocol. In his adventure epic “Apocalypto” (2006), Gibson hired Native American actor Rudy Youngblood to play a Mayan warrior. Happily, Youngblood was conversant enough with speaking in Mayan to make the difference work. In “Gods of Egypt,” Gerard Butler could have eliminated his Scottish accent, but the political incorrectness of his casting prompted neither Proyas nor Summit to recast another actor. Indeed, miscast as he is, Butler remains a highly sought-after actor and his bankability as a star enhanced the box office potential for this mythological melodrama.
The larger-than-life exploits in “Gods of Egypt” occur before the dawn of dynastic history, and all of it is preposterously outlandish. “Dracula Untold” and “The Last Witch Hunter” scenarists Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless appropriated the Egyptian myth "The Contendings of Horus and Set" as their source material. Pitting the gods Set and Horus against each other with the throne of Egypt as the prize, Sazama and Sharpless have forged an above-average, often contrived, but nevertheless entertaining escapade. Indeed, they recycle familiar conventions, but they have enlivened these shenanigans with a surprise or two. Proyas, who also helmed “The Crow” and “I, Robot,” never lets the pace slacken, and he stages some compelling close-quarters combat sequences. Of course, we know the young mortal heroine, Zaya (Courtney Eaton of “Mad Max: Fury Road”), never stands a chance of being condemned to death in the Underworld. The images of the Underworld look pretty creepy as a group of living skeletons preside over the induction process. Similarly, you also know the Egyptian Lord of the Air, Horus (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of “Game of Thrones”), is going to reclaim his throne that his treacherous uncle, Set (Gerard Butler of “300”), took from him after he tore Horus’ eyes out and forced him into exile. Not only did villainous Set steal the crown from Horus, but he also stabbed Horus’ noble father Osiris (Bryan Brown of “FX”) to death in front of everybody at Horus’ coronation. Mind you, you need not avert your eyes because this lavishly produced, PG-13 rated movie depicts these depredations in a manner shouldn’t offend anybody. Despite some grandiosely choreographed battle sequences, “Gods of Egypt” never wallows in blood and gore. Everything unfolds as our charismatic young hero, an “Aladdin” like thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites of “Maleficent”), steals a dress for his gorgeous girlfriend, Zaya, so she can attend Horus’ coronation in the height of fashion. After Set halts the coronation, murders Orisis, and then blinds Horus, Zaya finds herself enslaved to the evil Grand Architect Urshu (Rufus Sewell of “Dark City”), but she concocts a plan so Bek can steal back Horus’ eyes and restore him to his rightful position as monarch. Urshu surprises them and kills poor Zaya with a well-aimed arrow. A desperate Bek appeals to Horus to save Zaya. The lofty Lord of the Air calculates that he can save her before she reaches the ninth gate of the Underworld. Secretly, Horus isn’t being entirely truthful to Bek. Meantime, Horus’ grandfather, the Sun God Ra (Geoffrey Rush of “Shine”), wages a never ending battle against a toothy titanic worm with which Set seeks to destroy Egypt so he can acquire immortality in life.Most of what occurs is stuff you’ve seen before in movies celebrating legendary Greek gods, such as “Clash of the Titans,” “Wrath of the Titans,” and “The Immortals.” The Egyptian settings, however, add novelty to this narrative. The deserts of Australia stand-in splendidly for the Sahara Desert. The computer-generated imagery is truly exceptional, with some of the best 3-D effects. At times, when you are admiring some of these over-the-top shenanigans, “Gods of Egypt” feels like an awesome guilty pleasure. Despite its politically incorrect casting, “Gods of Egypt” qualifies as exciting from start to finish. The spectacular CGI laden effects are dazzling enough to compensate for its standard-issue, formulaic conventions. The shape-shifting gods who tower above mere mortals reminded me of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Transformers” franchise. Some scenes that invite derision involve characters riding humongous, fire-breathing snakes or Set soaring above a battle in a sleigh pulled by giant scarab beetles. Sadly, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau emerges as a rather lackluster hero, while Butler overshadows him in every scene. Altogether, “Gods of Egypt” is lightweight but enjoyable hokum.