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Plot: Horus and a mortal forge an alliance to overthrow rogue god Horus.

It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Gods Of Egypt is one of the biggest Hollywood monstrosities of recent memory. There’s something to be said about a $140 million production when the first and obvious comparison is the filmography of Luigi Cozzi. Gods Of Egypt tries it darndest to pass itself off as a peplum or sword-and-sandal revival spectacular, only reimagined as a big budget special effects bonanza and Marvel and DC Comics superhero origin story but with not a single bankable actor to its name. Unless Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, and Rufus Sewell suddenly became sellable names. No. Gods Of Egypt offers conclusive evidence that no amount of budget and eye-searing special effects can salvage a production from the age-old problem of terrible writing. There’s plenty of beautiful things to gawk at during its duration but that doesn’t distract from the more fundamental problems that plague Gods Of Egypt. In short, Alex Proyas’ most recent venture is the western counterpart of The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia (2017) or Luc Besson’s tragic misfire Enter the Warrior’s Gate (2016). In other words, Gods Of Egypt is the sort of big budget production you’d wish Luigi Cozzi had directed.

Gods Of Egypt was directed by Egypt-born, Australia-raised Alex Proyas. Proyas got his start directing commercials and short features in 1980-81. From 1986 to 1991 he directed music videos for the likes of INXS, Crowded House, Cock Robin, Fleetwood Mac, Mike Oldfield, Alphaville, and Sting. Proyas’ first Hollywood feature was the comic book adaptation The Crow (1994) where young action hopeful Brandon Lee was tragically killed in an unfortunate on-set firearm accident. However it was his next feature Dark City (1998) that allowed Alex Proyas to truly show his directorial prowess. The neo-noir Dark City (1998) was overshadowed by the similar The Matrix (1999) a year later and was liberally sampled by Luciferion on their swansong “The Apostate (First Step to Salvation)”. Dark City (1998) featured Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and Rufus Sewell and was powerful enough to catapult Proyas into the big leagues. His next feature was the Isaac Asimov adaptation I, Robot (2004) with Will Smith and was followed by the science fiction thriller Knowing (2009) with Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel. Gods Of Egypt is the Osiris myth from the Pyramid Texts - a collection of ancient religious texts dating to the Old Kingdom - reimagined as a Hollywood special effects bonanza and superhero origin story so terrible it could have come from The Asylum.

Gods Of Egypt was anything but well received, but was anybody surprised? It was written by the dynamic duo of Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless. Sazama and Sharpless wrote Dracula Untold (2014), The Last Witch Hunter (2015), and Power Rangers (2017) together, so there was little chance of Gods Of Egypt being any good. The biggest star here is Gerard Butler, he of 300 (2006), Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Timeline (2003), Reign of Fire (2002), and Dracula 2000 (2000). Followed closely by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from the original Nightwatch (1994) and Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Rufus Sewell is hardly a name-star but he was in everything from Vinyan (2008), The Holiday (2006), and The Illusionist (2006), to The Legend of Zorro (2005), and Dark City (1998). The same applies for character actor Geoffrey Rush whose diverse resumé includes, among many others, The King's Speech (2010), Munich (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Frida (2002), The Tailor of Panama (2001), and the 1999 remake of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959). As for the leads Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton they are humble unknowns. Thwaites was in Maleficent (2014), Oculus (2013), and Blue Lagoon: The Awakening (2012) whereas Eaton was one of the virgins in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Apparently Courtney is not in any related to former Bond girl Shirley Eaton from Goldfinger (1964) and The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967).

On the day of his coronation Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is witness to his father Osiris (Bryan Brown) being murdered in cold blood by his exiled overzealous brother Set (Gerard Butler). Set usurps the throne and the powers that come with it and declares a new regime where the living will have to pay riches in order to obtain access to the afterlife. This new regime installed Set strips Horus of his eyes, and thus his godly powers, before nearly killing him too. Hathor (Élodie Yung) is able to convince Set to banish Horus in exchange for the surrender of the kingdom. In the audience young thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) has promised his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) a life of luxury and riches. A year passes Bek has been forced into hard labour building monuments and Zaya is a handmaiden for Set's chief architect Urshu (Rufus Sewell). Zaya believes that Horus is the only one that can defeat Set and to that end she sends Bek to retrieve Horus’ eyes from a treasure vault. Zaya is found out and killed by Urshu. Bek takes the freshly deceased body of his lover to the blind and exiled Horus and strikes a deal: Horus brings Zaya back to life and Bek will help him defeat Set. Will Horus trust his young mortal ally enough to defeat the despotic Set?

It’s an absolute minimum of story that barely justifies this unrelenting two-hour digital effects assault on both the senses and good taste. It makes a rather concise case that Gods Of Egypt bears more semblance to Isis Rising: Curse Of the Lady Mummy (2013) and Luigi Cozzi's Hercules (1983) than it does to any other big budget monstrosity of recent memory. $140 million worth of digital effects and a screenplay full of fortune cookie wisdom and empty platitudes can’t distract from what really draws all the attention: the absolute dizzying multitude of breasts encased in highly impractical costumes. Gods Of Egypt is as terribly written as anything from The Asylum, TomCat Films, or Eurociné. Since it only grossed a comparatively meager $150 million worldwide and it’s unlikely that any of its proposed sequels will ever see the light of day.

Gods Of Egypt borrows liberally from Clash Of the Titans (1981), and Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) yet it still consistently fails to make something, anything, despite of all the resources it has at its disposal. Gods Of Egypt received five nominations at the 37th Golden Raspberry Awards and was lambasted for its predominantly white cast playing Egyptian deities. It’s an absolute feast for those for whom Emimmo Salvi’s Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962), the aforementioned Hercules (1983) from Luigi Cozzi, and Alfonso Brescia’s Iron Warrior (1987) just weren’t outré enough. And there are more than enough breasts on display to satisfy even the staunchest Jim Wynorksi, Andy Sidaris, and Rene Perez fan. $140 million and the only thing we’re fascinated by are the assembled busts of Courtney Eaton, Élodie Yung, and Emma Booth. It almost makes you wonder why Emily Booth wasn’t given a role in this trainwreck of epic proportions.

Perhaps it’s the absolute overkill of vomit-inducing digital effects or the absence of any sets worthy of the name but Gods Of Egypt makes Mural (2011) and The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia (2017) look measured in comparison. Some parts look like cutscenes from a PlayStation 4 video game, some scenes feel like a video game playthrough. Hell, the treasure vault scene could have come from Uncharted 3. It’s difficult enough to take a movie seriously that spents as much time on setting up a big confrontation between rivaling gods as it does gawking at the impressive cleavage of Courtney Eaton and Élodie Yung. Apparently not a whole lot has changed in the 50 years since Bella Cortez and Chelo Alonso steamed up Italian exploitation. Judging by the sheer amount of time that the camera spents fixated on Eaton’s bust you’d imagine this to be something down the line of Blue Jeans (1975). However Courtney appears in the beginning and then is pretty much a nonentity until the third act. Nothing is more telling that a production is in trouble then when it spents inordinate amount on what the assorted lead women are wearing than on the more fundamental problems of its screenplay. Gods Of Egypt has plenty of both but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining as the big budget shlock that it is. It understands the old adage that everything can be made better by the presence, or promise, of boobs.

It’s nigh on incomprehensible how a director and cast of this magnitude were roped into a production that had disaster written all over it. Alex Proyas is a director with an excellent eye for visuals (as most of his repertoire is testament to) but he seemed way over his head here. If there’s anything that really killed Gods Of Egypt it was the screenplay from Matt Sazama, and Burk Sharpless. Had this just been a big budget popcorn flick (and not a supposed superhero origin story) there could have been some merit to this. It would’ve worked even better had Gods Of Egypt fully embraced its innate ridiculousness. How else can you describe Gods Of Egypt than a contemporary Luigi Cozzi sci-fi/fantasy, complete with chiseled heroes and bosomy women? Personally, we would have loved to see Courtney Eaton as the lead, but an gender inverted romance would probably be too progressive or woke for a general audience. The audience, after all, never knows what the audience wants. Gods Of Egypt probably won’t be ushering in a big-scale peplum revival which is truly unfortunate.

That Gods Of Egypt supposedly intended as a franchise launcher is obvious enough. It certainly looks the part. $140 million can buy a producer or director a lot of things, but not a decent screenplay or writer, apparently. Instead history will remember it as one of the great disasters of modern cinematic history. Yeah, it truly is that wretched. What good is $140 million worth of special effects and a halfway marketable cast when the first thing the audience is collectively transfixed by is the fact that Courtney Eaton and Élodie Yung cut dashing figures in their figure-fitting costumes? The comparatively smaller regional cinematic industries that used to cater to this sort of thing have all either gone, or made, extinct by Hollywood itself.

Gods Of Egypt is a b-movie through and through and at least Gerard Butler (apparently the only one in the cast) was smart enough to realize what hot mess he got himself into. It’s absolutely amazing how a trainwreck of this proportion was expelled from Hollywood’s creative colon – and nobody thought that maybe the idea wasn’t all that good to begin with. There’s more than enough myths and folkloric tales from Egyptian antiquity that are worthy of a big screen adaptation. Gods Of Egypt is obviously not that movie. How often can you say that TomCat Films did the entire premise better… and probably on a tiny, tiny fraction of the budget that director Alex Proyas spent on lunches during the entire production too? Not often.

Plot: martial artists from all over the world compete in tournament on remote island

The “most controversial game of 1993” as Electronic Gaming Monthly called it was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias for Midway (now NetherRealm Studios). Whereas Street Fighter II: the World Warrior went for a very Japanese and anime style, Mortal Kombat became infamous for its photorealistic models and blood-splattering violence. Early in its ten-month development Mortal Kombat was to star Belgian martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme was in negotations with another company for a video game that eventually never materialized. Boon and Tobias parodied Van Damme with Johnny Cage, who does a split-groin punch as Van Damme famously did in Bloodsport (1988). Likewise had fellow action star Steven Seagal his own Genesis and SNES video game in production in 1993 with The Final Option. It was to be developed by Riedel Software Productions, Inc. and publisher TecMagik for an intended 1994 release before being inevitably pushed back to 1995 and subsequently cancelled. As these things tend to go Mortal Kombat was a smash hit in the arcades and led to a lucrative and enduring franchise popular to this day. The game’s over-the-top violence and the ensuing controversy and protests from parent groups led to the conception of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and its now-familiar rating system.

Mortal Kombat wasn’t the first video game to be adapted for the big-screen. Super Mario Bros. (1993), Double Dragon (1994), and Street Fighter (1994) all tanked at the box office for various reasons but more importantly because they fundamentally misunderstood their source material. In fact Jean-Claude Van Damme was offered the role of Johnny Cage but he declined it to star in Street Fighter (1994). Mortal Kombat was only the second feature for British director Paul W.S. Anderson. Anderson would later helm the science-fiction/horror romp Event Horizon (1997) as well as being the creative force behind the Resident Evil franchise (2002–2016) starring his wife Milla Jovovich. He also was responsible for Death Race (2008), a remake/prequel to Paul Bartel’s subversive Roger Corman produced shlock classic Death Race 2000 (1975) with David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone. Mortal Kombat spent three weeks at number one at the U.S. box office, netting $70 million domestically and over $122 million worldwide. Not bad for a silly fantasy retelling of the Bruce Lee martial arts classic Enter the Dragon (1973) on a modest $18 million budget. Anderson would do the same thing again, this time as producer, 11 years later (and only to a fraction of the success) with the lovably zany DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006) and Tekken (2010) following with even less fanfare and star power a few years down the line. Rare/Midway’s completely over-the-top Killer Instinct from 1994 remains curiously unadaptated.

Three martial artists from different walks of life are summoned to a tournament on a mysterious island somewhere in Asia. Liu Kang (Robin Shou) is a Shaolin monk on self-imposed exile in America. He's currently in the midst of a massive crisis of faith as he puts no stock in the long-held prophecy the temple elders insist he's irrevocably entwined with and the destiny he's bound to fulfill. Instead Kang is concerned more with avenging the slaying of his younger brother Chan (Steven Ho). Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) is an egocentric action movie star whose detractors in the tabloid press write him off as a phony and he looks for any and every opportunity to prove them wrong. Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, as Bridgette Wilson) is a headstrong military officer in pursuit of fugitive Black Dragon cartel crimelord Kano (Trevor Goddard) who’s responsible for killing her partner. The three have been selected by the god of thunder Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert) to defend Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat, the outcome of which will decide the fate of their own world. To ensure victory in Mortal Kombat shapeshifting sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) has bend the wills of fallen Lin Kuei warrior Sub-Zero (François Petit), the wraith/revenant Scorpion (Chris Casamassa), and Reptile (Keith Cooke, as Keith H. Cooke) as well as current tournament Grand Champion, the four-armed Shokan warlord Goro (Kevin Michael Richardson, as Kevin Richardson). The trio find an unlikely ally in leatherclad member of nobility Kitana (Talisa Soto), the enslaved princess of Outworld.

Instead of a renowned high-profile action director as Yuen Woo-ping, Ching Siu-tung, or Corey Yuen Mortal Kombat has to content itself with Pat E. Johnson and Robin Shou. Granted, Shou worked his way up from the dregs of Hong Kong cinema through a number of action - and martial arts movies, most notably In the Line of Duty III (1988) with Cynthia Khan and Michiko Nishiwaki and Princess Madam (1989) from Godfrey Ho. Shou cut his teeth under directors as Phillip Ko Fei and Jing Wong and Mortal Kombat was his debut in the English-speaking world. That is discounting the Warin Hussein made-for-TV drama Forbidden Nights (1990) for a moment. Although superior to his Western counterparts Shou by and large showcases the exact same moves as when he started out in the late eighties. In its defense the action choreography (thankfully) gravitates more towards HK cinema than it does the other way around. Which doesn’t change the fact that the Pat E. Johnson routines tend to be clunky, slow-moving and rely heavily on quick cuts and rapid editing. The two duels choreographed by Shou (Johnny Cage-Scorpion and Liu Kang-Reptile) are much more graceful, balletic and fluent in comparison. These two fights alone evince that Shou’s time sharing the screen with Cynthia Khan, Moon Lee, and Yukari Oshima did indeed pay off. The “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana (if it can be called that) isn’t so much a fight as it is foreplay. Sonya Blade fighting Kano early on is more of a brawl than anything else. The fights and action choreography have their own problems depending on who's directing. Initial screenings were found unsatisfactory by test audiences and more duels were demanded. As a result we, thankfully, were given the Liu Kang-Reptile duel.

Kevin Droney’s screenplay is often (and unjustly as far as we’re concerned) lambasted for its overt simplicity. We’ll concur that the three-act screenplay is economic in exposition and uses the rather formulaic backgrounds of the human kombatants for easily relatable stereotypical Hollywood character motivation. It acknowledges that the entire affair is preposterous and it sells those aspects wonderfully well through a barrage of snarky witticism and comedic one-liners from Christopher Lambert (visibly enjoying the sheer silliness of it all) and Linden Ashby. Some of the best lines come from the constant sparring between self-absorbed Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. That this Mortal Kombat isn't going to feature any of the game's infamous bloody Fatalities becomes clear enough when Lord Raiden intones that "Mortal Kombat isn't about death, but life." One of the greatest strengths of Mortal Kombat is that it takes itself just seriously enough to sell the ridiculousness of the game’s premise. As a product of Western fantasy Droney manages to at least pay lipservice to Asian values as honor, tradition, filial piety, ancestor veneration, and the perennial quest for spiritual enlightenment. Mortal Kombat takes its sweet time setting up the premise and central characters too. It isn’t until 45 minutes in that Mortal Kombat moves into the actual titular matches. From that point onward the plot never gets in the way of the multitude of fights. A point of contention is Sonya’s complete change of character around the halfway mark, but it is at least excuseable as Blade recognizes Shang Tsung’s superiority – and what better motivation for a character than a captive love interest?

To say that the romantic subplot between Liu Kang and Kitana is far-fetched and unnecessary is one thing. Kitana as a character gets all but two lines of character outline and then disappears to the background as a muse or sage-like figure. That Soto has few lines isn’t without reason as Vampirella (1996) would amply evince. Character development and plot are fairly minimal and only serve to progress the characters from one fighting scene to the next. Shang Tsung is an intelligent villain who schemes to delay his inevitable confrontation with Liu Kang. It is not until his resources are depleted, and his enforcer destroyed, that he engages Kang in battle. Lambert is visibly having fun in the role of Raiden and he spouts his lines with a grin. Linden Ashby possesses the right amount of underplayed arrogance, and his cynical witticisms greatly sell Johnny Cage as a believeable character. Liu Kang (who everybody simply calls “Lou”) experiences the greatest character arc, probably to compensate for Kitana’s arc being something of an informed attribute at the best of times. It’s anybody’s guess why Kitana is allowed so much freedom of movement when she’s vital to Shang Tsung’s scheme succeeding. Had Tsung kept Kitana out of bounds Kang would’ve never emerged victorious and Earthrealm would’ve merged with Outworld without drawing the ire of the Elder Gods. Obviously in a video game adaptation there’s bound to be bigger and smaller plotholes. As beautiful of a woman as Talisa Soto is an actress she most definitely is not.

If there’s anything that Mortal Kombat benefits from it’s the location shooting in Thailand and production design that faithfully recreates many of the game’s most beloved locations and fighting arenas. Among the featured landmarks are the Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple where Shang Tsung kills Chan during the opening, the Wat Ratchaburana temple where Liu Kang first meets Lord Raiden and Wat Chaiwatthanaram that stands in for the Temple Of Light. Then there’s Phra Nang beach where the “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana takes place. Railay Beach is used as entrance to Shang Tsung’s Island. Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Reptile are true to their videogame counterparts as far as costumes is concerned. Sonya Blade won’t be seen wearing her revealing military outfit and Kitana’s black leather bustier/dominatrix corset, husky voice and bedroom eyes should provide more than enough fetish/fantasy fuel for any redblooded male even if her attire isn’t her signature blue. Likewise won’t Kitana’s metallic double-fans be making an appearance until the sequel two years later. The production design is positively lavish including recreations of the Courtyard, The Hall of Statues, The Tower, and seen in passing are both The Pit and the Portal. Most of the visual effects and CGI are good for the budget, except maybe that Reptile’s CGI form clearly shows its age, a thing that wouldn’t improve with the sequel. With an 18 million (one million exclusively for the Goro animatronic) budget the arenas, production - and character designs, and costumes are faithful to the games from whence they came.

Mortal Kombat is probably a lot better than it has any reason to be. It’s self-aware enough to realize that it is no match for the likes of Fist Of Legend (1994) or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and it aspires to be nothing more than 90 minutes of vapid, chopsocky fun. As an Enter the Dragon (1973) variation you could do far worse. Keith Cooke headlined the turgid Albert Pyun martial arts feature Heatseeker (1995) and the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) helmed by cinematographer John R. Leonetti pretty much killed the franchise until Mortal Kombat: Rebirth (2010). With a soundtrack boasting everybody from Type O Negative, Fear Factory, and Napalm Death, to The Immortals, Traci Lords and Juno Reactor the Mortal Kombat soundtrack is a time-capsule for the nineties very much like Brainscan (1994) was. There's a peculiar aesthetic disconnect between the most controversial and violent fighting game of the day becoming a virtually bloodless affair through adaptation and Disneyfication. Mortal Kombat the movie is everything that Mortal Kombat the game wasn’t. Despite, or rather in spite of, that it somehow works. Mortal Kombat the movie understood the essence of Mortal Kombat the game. Nobody was coming into this expecting some kind of profound statement on the human condition. Nobody was aiming for some kind of cinematic high art. Mortal Kombat is fun, if you are prepared to meet it halfway. “Nothing in this world has prepared you for this.” For once the tagline was spot on.