Film Review – Gods of Egypt
Gods of Egypt
I’m a firm believer that to know what a good movie is, one has to see bad ones. How can you discern the difference if you haven’t seen both in ample amounts? In the case of Gods of Egypt (2016), here’s an opportunity to see a bad movie in all of its miserable glory.
This should have come out three decades ago. It belongs in an era where the cheesiness of Flash Gordon (1980) and Masters of the Universe (1987) miraculously garnered a cult following. But with those, at least their makers realized what they were making, and followed through as such. Gods of Egypt takes itself way too seriously, attempting to tell an epic story by cutting every corner possible. This is a badly rendered CGI wasteland that has no sense of fun or adventure, and wallows in its own mediocrity.
Shocking, given that it was directed by Alex Proyas. This is the director that made one of the greatest sci-fi pictures of all time, Dark City (1998). That was a thought provoking story with heightened visuals and sharp editing. My, how times have changed. The vision Proyas gave to Dark City is completely devoid in Gods of Egypt. There have been plenty of directors that have lost the narrative control that helped them make their best work, but this is different. It’s as though Proyas has completely changed as a filmmaker, lacking any kind of separation from other guns for hire.
This may be the worst use of computer-generated imagery I’ve seen in recent memory. The Egyptian environments, characters, temples, pyramids, deserts – everything is so blatantly artificial that it was like looking at a rough draft. When mythical warriors struggle in a life or death battle, it was the equivalent of watching a cartoon show nobody wants to see. When Egyptian gods mingle with human mortals, the size difference is laughably awkward. As characters walk through the desert, the lighting is severely unnatural; something you’d find inside of a soundstage. The special effects are so poorly done that the action contained no thrill to speak of.
The screenplay (by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless) is a mish mash of goofy romanticism and Egyptian lore. Set (Gerard Butler) the god of darkness, has defeated his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) and taken the eyes of his nephew, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). With merciless cunning, Set has taken rule of all the lands. Meanwhile, the mortal and petty thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) has his eyes set on his true love, Zaya (Courtney Eaton). But before Bek and Zaya can find their happily ever after, a problem occurs in the form of an arrow through Zaya’s heart. Distraught but not beaten, Bek makes a deal with Horus: Bek will help restore Horus’ sight and dethrone Set from power, and in return Horus will help bring Zaya back from the afterlife. Fair trade.
Do you see any problems with the casting here? Is it the fact that none of the actors are Egyptian, even though that’s where the entire story takes place? The production put very little effort to make any of the characters appear ethnically appropriate. Of all the actors they could have cast to play Egyptian gods, the best they could come up with was Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Scottish actor Gerard Butler. Butler’s performance is off base by a mile, he barely tries to disguise his Scottish accent. Maybe he’s only here to remind people of 300 (2006), the movie that made him a household name.
But let’s ignore the racial insensitivity for a moment. On paper, there should have been a lot to like in terms of set pieces. Characters run along falling platforms with scorpions waiting in a pit below. Bek and Horus fight two giant snakes. Gods transform into armor-plated soldiers with the ability to fly on golden wings. The sun god Ra (Geoffrey Rush) wields a staff strong enough to bring the most powerful beings to their knees. This sounds good, but the lackluster execution never allows any of the potential to come to life. It all ends up in a cacophony of fake explosions, crumbling tombs, and booming sound effects.
The biggest problem with Gods of Egypt is that it’s just not entertaining. It sits in that dreaded middle ground where it doesn’t realize it’s a dumb action picture. Characters walk around reciting clumsy dialogue asking us to take their words sincerely. The romance is supposed to sweep us off our feet, but instead forces our gag reflex. There are only two reasons people should watch this. 1) Friends will have a good time making fun of it, and 2) Filmmakers should see it and take notes on what not to do. The only solace I have is knowing that after this review, I’ll never…ever…have to think about this movie again.