Friday, March 4, 2016

GODS OF EGYPT: The joyous spirit of Michael Powell's The Thief of Bagdad lives on!

What a cacophony of critical nonsense greeted the debut of the would-be blockbuster, GODS OF EGYPT, which you will be lucky to still find in theaters one week later. And what a shame the majority of today's critical establishment is so untutored in film history -- not to mention the joy that comes from watching a well-made and exciting kids' adventure film -- that they stupidly gave this very enjoyable visual knockout such a drubbing.

A number of our "cultural guardians" even claim that the movie is difficult to follow, which must say something pretty dismal about their own IQ. This is one of the easiest-to-follow films, not to mention the most delightful of roller-coaster rides, to hit screens in a long while. Directed by Alex Proyas (shown at right and no slouch in the "great visuals" department: The Crow; Dark City; I, Robot) and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (who also gave us the underrated Dracula Untold), the movie reminded me most of the rightly famous and now-classic 1940 film The Thief of Baghdad. Granted, it is nowhere near as special as that movie, but it does indeed adhere to many of the tropes, themes and fine style of the Michael Powell/Ludwig Berger/Tim Whelan film.

How can anyone who's seen both films not almost immediately recognize young Brenton Thwaites (above, center, right) as the film's delightful Sabu-like hero, Bek? The flying carpets and genie of the early film may have been replaced by today's special effects (the effects here really are quite special), but their use remains in the service of telling a fine story about the importance of love, quests, gods, mortals, life, death and, of course, doing the right thing. (That's the willowy and gorgeous Courtney Eaton -- center, left, above -- who plays Thwaites' love interest.)

In the gods department you'll find a whole raft of fine performers in both the good and the evil sections -- from Gerard Butler (above, left) and Elodie Yung (above, right) to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (below, right)

to none other than Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, who plays Ra, the Sun God who must spend his days fighting off a very naughty, cloud-with-teeth-like monster from who-knows-where. (Mr. Rush handles this with his usual exemplary aplomb.)

If the movie seems to take awhile to find its footing and get into gear, I am not sure if this is actually the fault of the film itself, as much as it is our own for being simply so unused to seeing a good, old-fashioned fantasy/adventure like this one.

The movie may be all-green-screen all the time, but so far as eye-popping backdrops go, it looks like a billion bucks. You won't have seen this much imagination, color, and creativity going into fantasy-movie production values in a long time.

Compare what you see here, in fact, to the high-tech-but-pretty-ordinary crap dished out by so many of those Marvel franchises -- Iron Man, Avengers, Spiderman -- or much worse, that ridiculous abs-and-attitude movie, 300, in which all the backdrops looks almost the same. (One of the more special of the effects has to do with how much larger the gods register on-screen than do the humans -- even if, occasionally, the scale does seem a bit "off.")

Acting is on-target throughout, and the writing is just fine: The dialog and screenplay move everything along at a very fast clip, even as those themes of love, loss and redemption are given their due. There is a sweetness to this movie that escapes most fantasy blockbusters these days, and it is to be treasured, I think.

The monsters? They're quite fab, as well: fun and scary and created with extra flair and oomph. The movie may not be a classic, but it is so much better-than-expected in every way that to miss it on the big screen seems a shame.

It was hoped by the film's distributor, Lionsgate, that this would turn into another HungerGames/Divergent franchise. I guess not. But maybe there will be an after-life on home video, once cult world-of-mouth takes hold.  Click here to find out where these Gods are playing near you.

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