Gods of Egypt is a cheesy and visually unimpressive fantasy adventure that’s too dull to make for fun campy entertainment.
Gods of Egypt takes us back in time to a fantastical version of Ancient Egypt, where Horus, God of the Sky (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is about to succeed his father, Osiris (Bryan Brown), as the new ruler of Egypt. However, the crowning ceremony is interrupted by Osiris’ brother Set, God of the Desert (Gerard Butler), who then proceeds to murder Osiris and challenges Horus to a battle to decide who will be the new king. Set, with help from his army of warriors, manages to defeat Horus, before he removes his nephew’s eyes – to ensure that Horus will no longer pose a threat to him – and enslaves the remaining Gods of Egypt to serve him; including, Hathor, Goddess of Love (Elodie Yung), who has long carried on a romantic relationship with Horus.
Thereafter, the people of Egypt are forced into slave labor to serve Set and build a monument in honor of his glory, in order to have any hope of being allowed into the afterlife once they die. Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a young thief, thus agrees to help his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) with her plan to steal Horus’ eyes and return them to Egypt’s exiled rightful ruler, so that he might regain his fighting abilities in full and defeat Set, once and for all. But can the mortal Bek and the immortal Horus achieve the “impossible” and save Egypt?
Gods of Egypt was directed by Alex Proyas, the filmmaker who made his mark with such visually innovative 1990s films as The Crow and Dark City, before he moved onto such stylish (if less inventive) bigger-budgeted projects like I, Robot. Unfortunately, there is very little of that early creativity apparent in Gods of Egypt, a mythological fantasy/adventure that amounts to far less than the sum of its name cast and $140 million budget. Even those who have been holding out hope for a Clash of the Titans-style mindless, but flashy, blockbuster or maybe a potential future cult movie here might find themselves underwhelmed by what Gods of Egypt actually has to offer.
The Gods of Egypt screenplay was penned by writing duo Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama (Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter), who aim to temper the film’s muddled (and cheesy) B-movie treatment of Egyptian mythology by adding self-aware humor into the mix (largely courtesy of the wise-cracking Bek) – but in execution, Gods of Egypt‘s efforts to wink at the audience only diminish, rather than enhance, the movie’s inherent camp value. Similar to the mythological action films Clash (and Wrath) of the Titans and Immortals, Gods of Egypt also boasts a video game-esque narrative structure, wherein the film’s heroes encounter one “boss” fight after another. At the same time though, Gods of Egypt incorporates an excessive number of character subplots into the mix – seemingly to lay the narrative groundwork for a franchise – and distracts from the simple, but straight-forward, swashbuckling adventure plot at its core. The final result is a movie where the story beats keep on rolling, but frequently with little rhyme nor reason behind them.
Unfortunately, even with a substantial budget behind it, Gods of Egypt also fails to deliver in the CGI spectacle department. Proyas, working here alongside cinematographer Peter Menzies (Clash of the Titans, The Expendables 3), puts together numerous sequences that feature imaginative – if goofy – fantasy creatures and settings that are derived from actual Egyptian mythology, yet the vast majority of them have a distinct ‘green screen look’, meaning they fail to seamlessly blend the film’s real actors with the digital backdrops (which, even on their own, are likewise unconvincing); and while the concept of the Egyptian Gods looking like regular humans, albeit much larger, is intriguing in concept, the effect in the film is awkward thanks to weak shot composition techniques (unlike those used to create similar effects in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies). Gods of Egypt was also filmed with 3D in mind and tends to favor immersive camera shots over pop-out effects, though it fails to bring anything new to the 3D filmmaking table – not to mention, the added depth of field afforded by 3D inadvertently calls greater attention to the movie’s flimsy digital components.
White-washing casting controversy aside, the ensemble cast of Gods and Egypt is a mixed bag, in terms of both their performances and the character development they’re afforded. Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent) as Bek is a “thief with a heart of gold” archetype, but the character lacks the charisma to leave a lasting impression; Gerard Butler likewise makes for an under-whelming antagonist as the wrathful god Set, with little in the way of interesting character motivation or screen presence (save for those few moments where Butler chews the scenery). Even Nikolaj Coster-Waldau can only muster a watered-down version of his Jaime Lannister wit in the role of Horus here, despite the god being the one character in the film who has something of an actual arc. As for Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) as the mortal Zaya: she does her best, but the character is a two-dimensional love interest and simply doesn’t play an active role in much of the film. Similarly, Rufus Sewell (Hercules) as self-serving architect Urshu is little more than a forgettable scheming villain sidekick.
On the opposite end of the acting spectrum is Elodie Yung (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as Hathor, who makes for one of the more charming (and funnier) gods in Gods of Egypt as the flirtatious Goddess of Love, something that bodes all the better for her upcoming turn as Elektra on Daredevil season 2 (consider that the silver lining here). Similarly, Chadwick Boseman – who shall also join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016, as Black Panther – is entertainingly quirky and eccentric while playing the role of Thoth, the God of Wisdom who assists Horus and Bek on their quest. Finally, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Horus’ grandfather, the god Ra, hits the right hammy notes with his performance – something that is all the more appropriate, seeing as Ra’s scenes are among the more over the top and delightfully cheesy moments that Gods of Egypt has to offer.
In summation? Gods of Egypt is a cheesy and visually unimpressive fantasy adventure that’s too dull to make for fun campy entertainment. There are a few elements of the film that work, but for the most part Gods of Egypt is a film that’s more likely to induce yawns than generate excitement – or even many untended laughs, for that matter. Those who enjoy a goofy Clash of the Titans-style swashbuckling adventure might find enough to appreciate here to give the film a look once it’s available for home viewing. Everyone else: best to let this one pass right on through to the afterlife.
Gods of Egypt is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 127 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality.
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