If there is a movie in 2016 that truly exemplifies lost potential, it’s definitely Gods of Egypt. What should have been a rich and creatively satisfying foundation, that being Egyptian mythology, somehow led to a movie that does almost everything wrong. Then again, perhaps that’s what we get when we entrust a large-scale, mythology-themed fantasy movie to the studio behind The Twilight Saga and The Divergent Series.
Gods of Egypt could have been a great, engaging blockbuster for intelligent adults and frequent moviegoers that’s actually worth your ticket money, but instead, it seems to have sold out and made the laziest, schlock-iest movie imaginable, one that crowd-surfs its way into the waiting arms of gullible teenagers and easy-to-amuse fantasy geeks. The whole movie plays out almost like a video game-inspired movie, despite not being based off of a video game, in that it takes after the deranged style of what an old, out-of-touch studio executive thinks a video game is, namely glossy visuals laid over a non-sensical plot, over-the-top dialogue and overdone, muddled action scenes.
It should come as no surprise then that Gods of Egypt is certainly not worth a trek to the theatre. This is instead the kind of movie that you stream on home viewing, with as large and as drunk a crowd as possible, and enjoy as one of the most inadvertently humourous cinematic disasters of the year. The movie has that going for it at least, but sadly, it doesn’t have much else.
For all intents and purposes, the main character of Gods of Egypt is supposed to be Bek, played by Brenton Thwaites, a mostly generic boyish lead who must embark on a great quest with the Egyptian god, Horus, played by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The two are the last hope for Egypt in stopping Set, the god of the desert, darkness and all bad things pretty much, who is making a bid to conquer the kingdom… Or destroy the kingdom… Or something. Frankly, Set’s motivations keep changing as each act of the movie passes.
This sounds like a straightforward fantasy-adventure movie, with its main attempted wrinkle not really succeeding at differentiating it from the pack. Gods of Egypt tries to make itself distinct by portraying an ancient Egypt where the gods live among mortal humans, being exemplified by being extra tall, sometimes twice the size of normal humans, having liquid gold in place of blood (no, seriously), and having the ability to transform into divine beast-like creatures. That’s the initial idea, but it’s not long before Gods of Egypt starts getting contrived and breaking its own rules. This begs all sorts of questions, such as whether the gods are just, “Big people” pretty much (especially given how easy they die), or whether they actually have some sort of divine influence on Egypt, and are thus necessary to preserve world order.
The only instance where this is clear-cut is in the case of Ra (or Re, if you want to be a purist), the sun god, played by Geoffrey Rush (one among several great actors that are slumming it for an easy paycheque here), who has an essential part in keeping the mortal world alive and functioning. Ra’s duties as a god start coming into play later in the movie, and serve as the basis of the climax, but this still fails to address exactly what purpose the other gods serve. Sometimes they have useful powers and purposes to push the story along, and sometimes they just hang around and don’t really do anything, and Egypt never seems to be affected one way or the other. The movie can’t even get its own god mythology consistent or correct, and that’s especially glaring when it’s adapting a mythology that has been studied and recorded for thousands of years!
Even the heroes and villain are bland as can be. Horus never truly has a consistent central character arc, and seems to switch personalities on the fly. Bek meanwhile doesn’t seem to have a personality, and despite the movie attempting to generate pathos by having him fight for the life of a loved one in a young slave named Zaya, played by Courtney Eaton, it never registers, because neither of these characters manage to feel like actual, relatable human beings. This is especially apparent when Bek hilariously solves most of the challenges facing the group by himself, making this movie’s so-called, “Gods” come off as comically useless in terms of actually saving Egypt, which is what the gods’ entire purpose is supposed to be, in theory!
Obviously, Set is the exception, since he’s our bad guy, and is out to conquer Egypt for reasons that are mostly unknown. The movie sort of tries to explain Set’s agenda towards the climax, but even then, it flies in the face of Set’s previous beliefs and actions. In the end, Set is basically a villain who just conquers Egypt to be a jerk, more or less, and this further muddies the waters as to whether Set is a necessary part of Egypt’s divine function, or whether he’s just a bully. The movie doesn’t even adequately explain why Set is more dangerous than most of the other gods (presumably, because he’s god of the desert, and there’s so much desert in Egypt), and the way that Set seizes power is so unintentionally hilarious and easy that it just comes off as sad. Again, it’s amazing how useless almost every god in Gods of Egypt is for most of the movie!
We get a decent helping of Egyptian gods throughout Gods of Egypt, such as Osiris, Isis, Anubis, Hathor, Thoth, and a few others, but with no discernable personalities and paper-thin motivations, none of them truly register, even when they’re played by really good actors, such as Chadwick Boseman, who at least makes Thoth kind of a funny nerd-type god for a little while. There really isn’t much of anything to say about the gods or the mortals though, since almost every personality in Gods of Egypt is a mess of scattered ideas, and that’s not counting the personalities that are completely devoid of any attempt to give them likability or consistency.
Gods of Egypt’s storyline, much like its characters, is a total mess. Initially, the story hits the ground running so fast that it rushes through most of the beginning scenes, and thus fails to establish most of the essential info for audiences. Then, after that, it seems to become a drawn-out slog that’s filled with disconnected, CGI-filled action scenes and weird, blatantly green-screened set pieces that serve as momentary obstacles that are too quickly solved. Like I said, it feels like the writers and director saw a few disconnected scenes of the original God of War game on the PlayStation 2, stitched the scenes together without much cohesion, and then just switched the mythology theme to be Egyptian instead of Greek. That’s what Gods of Egypt’s final product honestly feels like!
The biggest issue with the storyline of Gods of Egypt however is how quickly it seems to throw up its hands and give up, and this leads to a script that is jam-packed with Deus Ex Machina moments that come completely out of nowhere, and have the movie constantly pulling saves and victories for the heroes completely out of its ass! The most egregious of these is during the climax, when the movie completely abandons whatever handful of rules it set for the gods previously, and then just has them doing whatever the script feels like, for the purpose of wrapping up this disaster.
“Lazy” doesn’t even begin to describe the final product of the story behind Gods of Egypt! Nothing is consistent, none of the characters are given any real development, and the movie can’t even be bothered with coming up with actual creative solutions to the larger-than-life battles and conundrums that it tries to represent. This is as shallow and unsatisfying as a fantasy movie’s story gets!
Director, Alex Proyas really hit it big back in the 90’s when he directed one of the few good comic book adaptations to come ahead of the comic book movie boom that started in the 2000’s, that being The Crow. Since then, Proyas has helmed the also-appealing Dark City, the good, but not awesome, I, Robot, and, before now, the highly disappointing and silly Knowing. Sadly, Proyas’ directing career just seems to be getting worse with every movie he helms, and Gods of Egypt is a very heartbreaking low point for him, especially since Proyas was actually born in Egypt! That’s especially ironic, when you consider that Proyas didn’t cast a single Egyptian actor in Gods of Egypt. Really?
To break apart Proyas’ latest directing gig though, Gods of Egypt is also a mess from a directing standpoint, which is sad, since it’s easy to get some of the sense that this was a passion project for Proyas and his Egyptian heritage. Like I said, Gods of Egypt is packed with pacing issues, with scenes that either unfold too quickly or too slowly, and the movie is so unfocused that it pretty much never succeeds at engaging audiences. The worst elements of this are when Bek and the gods he’s with are faced with some sort of trap or puzzle, and Bek just immediately solves the puzzle and disarms the trap. There’s no tension, there’s no stakes, there’s no nothing.
For a movie that aims to be so grand and impressive, it’s really frustrating that the direction behind Gods of Egypt is so limp and un-engaging. The performances are never on-point, often ranging from being detached to being over-the-top, with no real happy middle, and the overuse of the same panning cameras and slapdash CGI to push forward the action scenes feels tired and predictable before long. Gods of Egypt isn’t able to truly grab audiences, even if the sheer ineptitude on display can at least amuse them at times.
Marco Beltrami composes the score for Gods of Egypt, having experience composing for a lot of lower-budget genre movies. Beltrami’s score tries to engage audiences where the rest of the movie fails to, by having a lot of weird, out-of-place swells in the music, but the result just serves to make the movie look even more incompetently put together. The music, like the performances, is very out-of-tune with much of what’s going on on-screen, and thus fails to pull audiences into the movie.
The rest of the soundtrack and audio is similarly limp and disappointing. Some of the action scenes sound acceptable, but the movie’s gods, even when they’re transformed, never truly feel all that powerful. Perhaps an IMAX 3D showing and other such premium formats can help boost that with their enhanced speakers, but even then, the audio behind Gods of Egypt is kind of flimsy, and is largely carried by the attempts at flashy sets and CGI. Even with the orchestral swells, the movie never seems to achieve the kind of punch that it needs to have, and that makes a grand-looking fantasy movie sound like a surprisingly small one.
If there is one lone, occasionally apparent better portion of Gods of Egypt, it’s the fact that the movie at least looks pretty good in a few scenes. The glossy, large-scale set pieces can be semi-impressive, and the whole design of Egypt in this movie is actually pretty solid overall. Some of the action scenes and effects-driven scenes are also decent, though a few of them are also ruined by crappy CGI that looks either blurry, or otherwise unconvincing. In fact, this occasional over-dependence on CGI can pull audiences out of the movie during certain scenes, and make it all too apparent that most of Gods of Egypt was slapped together on a green screen.
That’s before the wrinkle of the 3D and IMAX 3D cuts as well, and my screening of Gods of Egypt happened to be in standard digital 3D, since there wasn’t an IMAX 3D showing made available in my entire city, nor the surrounding area, probably limiting IMAX 3D showings to the biggest cities in your country, if even that. It’s like even the theatre handlers knew that Gods of Egypt is a garbage movie, and didn’t want to waste IMAX space when they’re still riding high on the likes of Deadpool and Zootopia, two movies that are a thousand times better than this one.
Regardless, is the 3D in Gods of Egypt any good? Well, sort of. As with the CGI, the 3D quality can be pretty uneven. There are certain scenes where the 3D looks great, adding a strong sense of added scale to sweeping set pieces and the like, though it often feels slapdash, further blurring the muddled CGI of some action scenes, and making the dark, incomprehensible scenes look even darker and more incomprehensible. If you’d rather save yourself the headache, you might as well just watch Gods of Egypt flat in 2D, since the 3D usually just proves to be distracting and sloppy, though obviously, the best use of your investment is not seeing Gods of Egypt at all.
Gods of Egypt is a glorious cinematic trainwreck, being a movie with high ambitions that clearly doesn’t have the means or intelligence to realize them. It’s very difficult, if not impossible to recommend in theatres, and even then, only those inclined to watch bad movies ironically will probably get any entertainment out of it. Fortunately, for all of its failings and ineptitude, Gods of Egypt does at least often manage to be unintentionally hilarious, though if it’s simply sheer laughs that you’re looking for, you’re probably better off just seeing Deadpool again.
The sad thing is, the foundation behind making a movie about Egyptian mythology is not a bad one. Greek and Norse mythology tend to be the go-to options for Hollywood when they want to make any kind of mythology-themed movie, and Egyptian mythology too often gets lost in the shuffle, despite being equally robust and rife with cinematic possibilities. It is entirely possible to make a great movie about Egyptian mythology, but Gods of Egypt is definitely not that movie.
With the especially crowded slate of fantasy movies and other such genre movies on the way in 2016, you’re definitely better off holding on to your ticket money for something better. Warner Bros. and DC have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice arriving in a couple of weeks, and Disney has The Jungle Book already selling tickets in the U.S. for next month, and that’s before the rush of inevitably better Summer blockbusters between May and August. Unlike the legacy of the gods it claims to represent, Gods of Egypt is better off fading into obscurity, and is ultimately doomed to be the latest reason for naysayers to say that modern Hollywood should just stay away from mythology movies.
- Some of the set design is appealing
- Quite funny, if you don't take it seriously
- Story is inconceivably dopey and lazy
- Both god and mortal characters are devoid of personality and consistency
- Direction and pacing are hilariously inept