(On Cable TV, October 2016) I’m already on record as having an odd fondness for big-budget box-office bombs (they may not be good, but clearly there’s a lot to see on-screen), so you would think that I’d be favourably predisposed toward Gods of Egypt … and I was. There’s the added attraction of seeing director Alex Proyas’ work on the big screen for the first time since Knowing, the willingness to tackle a different mythology and a cast of good actors (albeit, as amply noted, overwhelmingly Caucasian—too bad for the wasted opportunity). On paper, Gods of Egypt sounds fascinating. On the screen, however, it’s another matter: From an unexpectedly cheap title card and an interminable opening monologue that throws viewers into the ice-cold pool of Egyptian mythology without a lifejacket, Gods of Egypt seems determined to sabotage itself even when it shows promise. As far as the 140M$ budget is concerned, you certainly see a lot of it on-screen: Proyas’s vision for the film is ambitious and expansive, and some sequences do capture an impressive sense of visual awe. The actors do their best, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau getting another noteworthy role outside Game of Thrones and Élodie Yung looking fetching as the Goddess of Love (imagine having that on your filmography). In bits and pieces, still pictures and six-second video, Gods of Egypt works well. But when Gods of Egypt tries to piece the images together and paper over its ambitious vision with a limited special-effects budget, the film implodes. It feels unbearably dull, interminable, and conventional even in its unconventionality. By the end, it plays exactly like the countless other big-budget fantasy snore fests that have tried (and often failed) to parlay mythology and special effects into box-office receipts. Bad attempts at quips rival with unsympathetic characters and more lore than any brain can care about in an undercooked script that lays a bad foundation for the uneven special effects. By the end of the film, I was just thankful that it was over. I suspect that another viewing of the film with low expectations may improve my reaction slightly … but to be frank I can’t imagine being willing to spend another 130 minutes any time soon watching Gods of Egypt again.
(On DVD, July 2010) As a follow-up to the first Banlieue 13, this sequel does the expected: Bring back the lead characters to do the same things again in a slightly bigger context, while avoiding messing too much with the formula. It works decently: David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli are just as great as the action heroes of the sequel, and while there’s a little less parkour this time around, the mix is still heavy in good action sequences. Between a martial arts demonstration in which a Van Gogh painting is used (Jackie Chan-style) as a weapon, a chase sequence in which a character makes his way down from a tall building complex, or a video-game-inspired fight featuring the captivating Elodie Yung, Banlieue 13: Ultimatum delivers as an action movie. Director Patrick Alessandrin keeps control of the mixture, and the budget of the piece only shows its limits in a regrettable decision not to show some of the ending explosions. While Luc Besson’s script is its usual mix of ham-fisted populism, sexy misogyny and thin rationales, there’s something intriguing in the way it sets up a multicultural union of interest against staid reactionary “Harriburton” capitalism. There may not be a whole lot of substance to this film, but it’s got its pulse on significant Parisian social issues. Anyone who liked the first film will feel just as satisfied with the sequel. The Region-1 DVD comes complete with a short but enlightening making-of documentary that highlights most of the film’s high action points, and appears to reflect the fun that everyone had in making the picture.