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Review: ‘Gods of Egypt’ Isn’t a Glorious Mess, It’s a Garish Disaster

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Based on the posters that sparked a whitewashing controversy and the trailer that was beyond bonkers, I developed very specific hopes for “Gods of Egypt.” Its mishmash of Egyptian lore and inexplicable mecha had me ready for a beautiful mess of a movie akin to “Winter’s Tale” or “Jupiter Ascending,” two risky works that are deeply entertaining, although not always in the way they intend.

Alternately, considering this is the latest from “The Crow” and “Dark City” director Alex Proyas, I hoped that despite the promotions, this would be a unique, dark and glorious gem of an adventure. Sadly, it’s neither.

“Gods of Egypt” isn’t good enough to be truly entertaining, and not terrible enough to be “so bad it’s good.” It’s best defined as a garish disaster.

The plot centers on a war between the titular gods, who (for no apparent reason) are about twice the size of mortals, a pricey visual effect that never stops looking ludicrous. A growling Gerard Butler brings his Scottish accent to the role of the evil Set, who throws the world into chaos as he strives to conquer it. “Game of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau reenacts the Jaime Lannister arc, but as a giant without an incestuous sister or any pathos. As Horus, he’s introduced as a cocky, gorgeous prince destined for glory, only to be betrayed, crippled (he loses eyes instead of a hand) and forced to rebuild himself to save the day. It’s little wonder Coster-Waldau, while still charming, seems to be sleepwalking through this journey.

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Lastly, we have the mortal caught in the crosshairs: Bek (“The Giver’s” Brenton Thwaites) is a thief who has no faith in the gods, even as they transform into winged battle bots in the skies above him. Sure, he knows they exist, but he doesn’t agree with his doe-eyed fiancé (Courtney Eaton) that these deities give a damn about humanity. However, when his lady love is killed, Bek reaches out to the fallen Horus to save her and the rest of Egypt. Together, these unlikely allies must take down Set, who grows more powerful as he steals organs and limbs from his fellow gods.

There’s a lot of plot here, but no complexity. Going in you’ll be able to predict every beat, although the script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless throws in some curious bits. There are such strange visuals as flying chariots drawn by giant scarabs, gargantuan fire-spewing snakes, and a sail boat in space where Geoffrey Rush’s Ra rules over the Earth, fighting off a monster made of smoke and teeth while draped in a look that’s best described as flaming space pope. Maybe you hear these details and think this has to be fun. Nope. Despite lots of bold and bizarre production choices, the tone of “Gods of Egypt” is confusingly serious and lacking in character.

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Proyas clearly wants to awe audiences with sheer spectacle, be it costly crowd scenes, repeated god-on-god violence, “Transformer”-style shapeshifting or scads of fight scenes. But for a movie that reportedly cost $140 million, it looks painfully cheap. Most of the time, I felt like I was watching someone else play a video game, not only because of the lack of realistic visual effects, but also because of how the action is staged. Again and again the editing cuts from a wide two-shot to a close-up in slow motion of a near-miss strike or a palpable hit. And it feels as if those moments in any fighting game where you pull off a special move and your reward is slo-mo animation of that killer slam. The device didn’t create an exciting sequence; instead, it made me wish “Gods of Egypt” were a video game.

When we talk about whitewashing, a common defense is that “the best” actors should be chosen for the role regardless of their skin color. Sure, but “best” is a nebulous term. Still, I suspect in casting Proyas was looking to hark back to they heyday of sword-and-sandal films, when white men starred and everyone spoke in a British accent. Inadvertently, this move also ties “Gods of Egypt” to a long history of whitewashing, and demands its cast all slap on British accents, no matter their ability to hold on to it (looking at you, Thwaites!). However, it’s difficult to argue these are the “best” actors for these roles when Butler, Coster-Waldau and Thwaites all get shown up by the film’s supporting players.

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Chadwick Boseman, who has spoken out about the film’s whitewashing, absolutely steals every scene he’s in, which is too few. I was beginning to ponder how a film this expensive could afford to be devoid of star power, then in came the god of knowledge Thoth, with an entourage made up of his self-created doubles, and a snooty wit that won the biggest reactions from the audience. Boseman breathed life into this joyless journey, making me all the more pumped for his Black Panther debut in “Captain America: Civil War.” And as the film’s lone black star, his performance makes a powerful statement by smoothly stealing the show from the supposedly more bankable white leads.

Rufus Sewell is wonderful as ever in the role of an elitist villain (see also “A Knight’s Tale”), winning me over from his first sneer.

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However, the other real standout is Elodie Yung, who’s bringing her sharp allure to the role of Elektra on “Daredevil.” As the goddess of love Hathor, she’s regularly robed like a Victoria Secret model, yet manages to be more than eye candy. Yung and Boseman seem to be the only two who can deliver the script’s lame one-liners and poor punchlines. Her dark eyes burn bright, infusing her slim backstory with a compelling passion. Plus her sharp-tongue and sexy smirk make her more than a match for the feuding Set and Horus, who plant her in an awkward love triangle. Regrettably, both Hathor and Thoth are cast aside for the film’s big finale, which is a nonsensical catastrophe.

I went into “Gods of Egypt” determined to have a good time, whether the movie was a marvel or a mess. As much as I admire big swings, it’s difficult to tell what Proyas was aiming for. His vision is such a perplexing tangle of influences, it’s tough to get a footing in his world. Its action scenes are plentiful but underwhelming. And the film’s heroes and villain fail to be even half as intriguing as its discarded supporting characters, even when they have twice as much screen time or are rendered twice their size. Although there are dazzlingly oases of talent and character to be found here, “Gods of Egypt” is largely a desert of an adventure, lifeless and punishing.

“Gods of Egypt” opens Friday.

Comments

  • solletaire

    OK, I’m a casual movie goer that knows next to nothing about making and marketing movies… Even so, I could tell this movie would be a tough sell based on the description (how many sword and sandals epics have failed miserably in the last 5 years alone) and was 90% certain it would be a disaster after watching the first trailer…

    So my question is: What are the executives who green light these projects thinking?! A $140M budget? Good luck turning a profit, guys, but honestly you should have seen this coming as early as the pitch for this movie was made :)

  • solletaire

    OK, I’m a casual movie goer that knows next to nothing about making and marketing movies… Even so, I could tell this movie would be a tough sell based on the description (how many sword and sandals epics have failed miserably in the last 5 years alone) and was 90% certain it would be a disaster after watching the first trailer…

    So my question is: What are the executives who green light these projects thinking?! A $140M budget? Good luck turning a profit, guys, but honestly you should have seen this coming as early as the pitch for this movie was made :)

  • Blane Stroud

    They probably don’t care about the US audience. Overseas is a huge market for bad, CGI heavy, epic movies. It’s not too much of a struggle to turn a profit by just being flashy. Terminator Genesys, Pacific Rim, Clash of the Titans, etc. None of them reviewed particularly well, but overseas made them all relatively profitable. It’s an easy moneymaker at the moment.

  • Mark Reed

    Was after a crazy action romp and seems that’s what it is, get the feeling some reviews will try and side with casting choices (reviews should not get caught up in this, if you do this film do all those to come…and gone before Boooo! Star Wars)

    If it entertains me will be happy, maybe not one for the collection, but a popcorn flick.

  • solletaire

    Oh, yes, that’s true enough. You have a point. One caveat, seeing as how the sequel to Terminator Genesys was canned and Pacific Rim 2 (which was much better received at home) went through developmental hell, my best guess is the international box office is a fail safe to fall back on, not a goal for the studio… I don’t know, I just don’t see Hollywood making a movie aimed at the audience overseas…

  • jsw7533

    Agreed – this is a film made for India and China. Have you seen the movies that are selling out tickets over there?

  • goodfellow_puck

    I’m white. I love the hell out of ancient Egypt and it’s mythos.

    There is not a chance in hell I will see an Egyptian mythos movie with white dudes as the “gods”. That is sheer and utter stupidity of a massive level. If they can’t get the basic requirement of correct ethnicity right in a movie that is clearly not a satire or spin, then there’s obviously no hope at all for anything else in this mess.

  • Anton Carpati

    Well, actually, Horus wasn’t supposed to be white nor black. He was supposed to be a freaking hawk-man. Set was supposed to be a jackal, Thoth an ibis, Hathor a cow etc. The color of their skin is basically the least of their concerns. Except for Osiris. He’s green.

  • Jon Grasseschi

    “The plot centers on a war between the titular gods, who (for no apparent reason) are about twice the size of mortals …”

    … I’m racking my brain but I just can’t figure out why that’s an issue.

    I mean, I get it, you see a flick you don’t like and it’s hard to keep from piling on over every little thing (and this looks like a hard movie to like), but the reasoning for deities being impossibly large seems like it should be self-evident.

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    Egads, this is Proyas? WTF, this guy used to make movies like The Crow and Dark City…

  • mel

    Proyas has gotta eat.

  • Zarathos No Daimaōh

    Don’t forget that he also vomited “I , robot” and some obscure Nicolas Cage movie . After that and with the very first look at gods of egypt , it’s obvious that he sold out and gave up on doing good movies .

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    Pacific Rim reviewed well. That movie actually became the poster child of “This is the reason we can’t have nice things” when it was beaten at the domestic box office by “Grown Ups 2″

    The other two you mentioned were notoriously bad-but-still-successful.

  • mythic

    “she’s regularly robed like aVictoria Secret model, yet manages to be more than eye candy”

    “Manages”

    This idea that characters only get sexualized to make up for incompetence in the characters writing or the actresses acting needs to die.
    They get sexualized because human sexuality is one of the greatest aspects of life and should not be censored in entertainment when it brings enjoyment to thousands of viewers.

  • Kelly

    Yeah, of course the Marvel actors outshine everyone.
    We see what you’re doing, CBR. I’ve seen the Boseman and Yung clips and they’re just as terrible as all the others.

  • akkadiannumen

    Ouchie…

  • King_of_Men

    I have to say I don’t think I would let this review be the only one I read before deciding to go the theatre or rent the BluRay. There definitely seems to be an agenda going on here.

  • Anton Carpati

    From Dark City to Fart Shitty…

  • Blane Stroud

    Which is why I said “particularly well”. PR has a pretty meh 64% on Metacritic and 72% on RT. Not exactly blowing anyone away with those ratings, and it got beat by a sequel with known money-makers. Not much a shocker. It was dumb to release it alongside a movie with such wide appeal.

  • Tophman

    Well said (and incidentally I just saw this flick a few hours ago and enjoyed it for what it was -a fun adventure flick with an interesting ‘what if’ concept). It’s funny that the reviewer would point the character size discrepancy out as I’m sure no one wondered what the point of Hobbits & Dwarves being half the size of Humans in the Tolkeinverse.

  • Tophman

    Well said (and incidentally I just saw this flick a few hours ago and enjoyed it for what it was -a fun adventure flick with an interesting ‘what if’ concept). It’s funny that the reviewer would point the character size discrepancy out as I’m sure no one wondered what the point of Hobbits & Dwarves being half the size of Humans in the Tolkeinverse.

  • Tophman

    I’ve seen the film myself, King, and it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be (though I do agree that the flashy action sequences were very video game-y). It’s basically an adventure film about never giving up set in a strange alternate reality where the world is flat & powerful ‘Gods’ roam and rule the lands.

    Pros:
    -a cohesive storyline that you can follow & get drawn into (provided you don’t try to equate it to historical facts -it’s a fantasy world);
    -fun moments and quipps sprinkled across the movie;
    -interesting concepts & visuals (chariot of flocks of birds & giant beetles, Ra’s space yacht, etc);
    -Rufus Sewell & Chadwick Boseman, fun to watch;

    Cons:
    -‘over done’/CG action sequences (particularly fights);
    -Courtney Eaton didn’t have enough screen time (she’s purty ;)

    As for the white-washing debacle? Seriously? This is a made up world that has nothing to do with the real Egypt or its people other than that its Gods/characters were derived and inspired by its rich mythology.

  • Tophman

    I’ve seen the film myself, King, and it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be (though I do agree that the flashy action sequences were very video game-y). It’s basically an adventure film about never giving up set in a strange alternate reality where the world is flat & powerful ‘Gods’ roam and rule the lands.

    Pros:
    -a cohesive storyline that you can follow & get drawn into (provided you don’t try to equate it to historical facts -it’s a fantasy world);
    -fun moments and quipps sprinkled across the movie;
    -interesting concepts & visuals (chariot of flocks of birds & giant beetles, Ra’s space yacht, etc);
    -Rufus Sewell & Chadwick Boseman, fun to watch;

    Cons:
    -‘over done’/CG action sequences (particularly fights);
    -Courtney Eaton didn’t have enough screen time (she’s purty ;)

    As for the white-washing debacle? Seriously? This is a made up world that has nothing to do with the real Egypt or its people other than that its Gods/characters were derived and inspired by its rich mythology.

  • Zagreus

    Loved the Crow, still one of my favorite movies. Dark City rocks too.

  • Zagreus

    Loved the Crow, still one of my favorite movies. Dark City rocks too.

  • AbraxasDraco

    “the titular gods, who (for no apparent reason) are about twice the size of mortals”, SERIOUSLY? have you ever read anything about Egypt History? Geeez this is pop corn movie but suddenly everyone hates it all Pseudo critics of course

  • AbraxasDraco

    “the titular gods, who (for no apparent reason) are about twice the size of mortals”, SERIOUSLY? have you ever read anything about Egypt History? Geeez this is pop corn movie but suddenly everyone hates it all Pseudo critics of course

  • LA Julian

    They’re not sexing up the guys in the same way. (And no, implying the one black guy is gay is not a subversion either.) If they were doing what you say they were doing, there would be equal-opportunity erotification of male and female actors.

  • LA Julian

    They’re not sexing up the guys in the same way. (And no, implying the one black guy is gay is not a subversion either.) If they were doing what you say they were doing, there would be equal-opportunity erotification of male and female actors.

  • LA Julian

    You do understand that scale of figures in Egyptian art is a way of showing relative importance, like positioning someone in the foreground of a scene? NOT actual measurements. Thus, the pharaoh and the queen are usually shown 2x as tall as their subjects — but that doesn’t mean that Ramses and his family were giants, either! Have you ever read ANYTHING about Egyptian art history?

  • mythic

    There is a thing called Target Audiences, they know women in general will not see the film so there would be absolutely no point to male sexuality being in it.
    Regardless that has absolutely nothing to do with what I was saying, My argument was that female character can be hyper sexy and well written and well portrayed at the same time, its not one or the other.