Gods of Egypt is a lot of things, most of them not very flattering. It is clumsy, bloated, silly and foolish. It is poorly cast and heavily dependent upon an over abundance of CGI. Yet somehow, if allowed a certain frame of mind, it is also stupid fun. The film is basically a cross between the journey-based fantasy films of the Seventies and Eighties and the modern over-the-top nonsense of today’s superhero films. The structure is only interested in setting up the next set piece, one more obstacle in the way of the final confrontation. All character development, any romantic ties or invested confrontation are tossed aside for four-color theatrics and video games inspired fight scenes. Director Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) manages to hold it all together and provide some visual flair where needed. The acting is straight out of the poorest of young adult adaptations hitting the theaters in the past decade. Gerard Butler chews up the scenery as the villainous Set while Geoffrey Rush steals the thunder in an extended cameo role as Ra. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays Horus as if he were a mirror image of Jaime Lannister and Chadwich Boseman (Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War) feels lost as Thoth – although he does get the best lines. Courtney Eaton as Zaya and Elodie Yung (Electra in Daredevil) as Hathor a given very little to do although Elodie has more chemistry with young Brenton Thwaites (Bek) than Eaton shares with her romantic lead. Gods of Egypt is a mess but it still manages to entertain by sheer perseverance alone.
The story for Gods of Egypt lands in a time when the legendary gods of the Nile lived among man, dwarfing them in power and in size. The gods possess abilities beyond mankind, bleed gold and rule over the human race. Osiris (Bryan Brown) is the King of Egypt and is preparing to hand his crown to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to rule as the new king. Before the ceremony can conclude, Osiris’ brother Set (Gerard Butler) arrives under the guise to congratulate his nephew. Instead he slays Osiris, banishes Horus to the desert – but only after steeling his eyes -, takes his girl Hathor (Elodie Yung) as his new intended bride and claims the crown as his own. Now enslaved to Set’s rule, mortals Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) plot to steal back Horus’ eyes and convince him to dethrone the maniacal Set. That’s the first packed 15 minutes. Ha! From there, after Zaya is slain, Bek coerces Horus to join him on a quest to undo Set and rescue his dearly departed beloved before she reaches the final gates. They face fire breathing giant serpents, an angry sphinx and the all powerful god of gods Ra himself (Geoffrey Rush).
A big problem with Gods of Egypt is the imposed physical size difference between the god characters and the mortal ones. Horus, Set and the rest stand over 9 feet tall. While Peter Jackson was able to convince his audience that Gandolf, Boromir and Aragorn towered over Frodo and Samwise within the fantasy world of The Lord of the Rings, the juxtaposition of size and stature between the Egyptian gods and the likes of Bek and Zaya is ridiculous and, worse, often inconsistent. On top of that, these gods have the ability to morph into other creatures even larger in size. While visually interesting and inexplicably curious, they are dull in cinematic terms and structurally out of place, feeling far more suited for a video game or found within a lifeless animated feature. By the time Horus and Set transform into these gilded beasts any and all character that managed to make it off the big screen is totally lost degrading to one-dimensional roles, hero battling villain. The action is lively and kinetic but the investment in the battle itself and its outcome is nearly non-existent, living off the basis of good versus evil. There is no sense of suspense or consequence with the story working hard to undermine or undo any important sacrifice or loss made necessary to make the journey.
This is not to say there are not a few moments of interest and character development buried under the spectacle and broad strokes. Horus is afforded an arc however disingenuous it may be. He does change as a result of this tale. His growing affection for his mortal companion provides his character with a touch of heart and humanity even if he is forced to make a rather to-the-point decision toward the end to ensure the audience “gets it.” Even more interesting is the fleeting respect between Hathor and Bek when she realizes her powers – to bend men’s will – are ineffective on those who know true love as she is unable to command Bek’s will. For a short bit, this allows Bek to have something more akin to a realistic conversation with his costars. Still, regardless of their changed feelings towards mortals, they still treat poor Bek more like a puppy than an equal. By contrast, even to the weak pillars of Horus and Hathor, Set is simply the “bad guy” – the villain looking to conquer the world. The only thing that makes him stand out among the Ultrons, Ronans, Abominations and Malekiths is the waning star power of Gerard Butler, complete with his Scottish accent. Think “Egypt is Falling” and the thought may not be far off.
The film is also full of some fun surprises – using the term “fun” lightly. First and foremost is the hammiest of hams, Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush, as Ra. Oh, he is glorious. Rush seems to be the only cast member who knows what the hell is going on and plays the inherent silliness of the character for all it is worth. Still, his Ra is no where near as enjoyable as the scene stealing Captain Hector Barbossa from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. But it tries to be. The set pieces themselves are fascinating from the Raiders of the Lost Ark swiping constructs of Bek’s stealing back Horus’ eyes to snake ladies riding atop giant fire breathing vipers to the air ship Ra commands in the reaches of space to keep a giant planet eating monster at bay. Chadwick Boseman tries his hardest to infuse Thoth with a distinguished sense of humor and jest but ends up being the butt of the joke more than providing the laughs. Regardless he proves himself far better than the role, a feat only Geoffrey Rush is able to accomplish likewise. Despite the many issues this film has it manages to maintain a sincere sense of adventure and joy – if only on its own terms. If allowed, Gods of Egypt could surprise its audience with a reasonably good time.
Gods of Egypt deserves all the flack it is getting from the white-washing of the characters to the lack of quality script and direction (apologies to Mr. Proyas) to the out and out silliness of the adventure itself. The film is laughably stupid at times. It makes some odd choices and when the gods are in full transformation mode the action feels very much like an animated sequence in a video game. It lacks the structure and character development making it unable to add any weight to the conflicts or draw any engagement to the relationships, whether they by mortal or god. It is all very pointless. But, by sheer indulgence and moxie, Gods of Egypt manages to never be dull and lifeless, maintaining an forward flow to its journeyman storyline. It is fascinating in a “what will they come up with next” context. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes for a weak hero while Gerard Butler chews the scenery like General Thunderbolt Ross chomps on a cigar. In the end it is up to character actors like Geoffrey Rush or up-and-coming stars like Chadwick Boseman to shine light onto the story. For some, Gods of Egypt could be a guilty pleasure, a lazy but diverting and enjoyable mess.
Gods of Egypt (2 / 5)