A film review by Craig J. Koban March 8, 2016



2016, PG-13, 127 mins.


Gerard Butler as Set  /  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Horus  /  Elodie Yung as Hathor  /  Abbey Lee as Anat  /  Courtney Eaton as Zaya  /  Brenton Thwaites as Bek  /  Geoffrey Rush as Ra  /  Rufus Sewell as Urshu  /  Chadwick Boseman as Thoth  /  Goran D. Kleut as Anubis

Directed by Alex Proyas  /  Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless


The new fantasy film GODS OF EGYPT feels like it was written by a five-year-old boy that likes to play with action figures in his sandbox, making up his own outrageously nonsensical narrative as he goes along.  It's so laughably schlocky and mindlessly awful that I frequently had to pinch and remind myself every few minutes during my screening that competent and professional adult creative forces were at the helm of it all.  

The fact that GODS OF EGYPT was directed by Alex Proyas is staggeringly depressing, seeing as he was the man behind such dark, moody, and forebodingly memorable films like THE CROW and DARK CITY, not to mention compellingly constructed sci-fi thrillers like the crazily underrated KNOWING.  GODS OF EGYPT utterly fails to evoke what made Proyas’ past work so aesthetically rich and intriguing.  The film is garish, bombastic, mindless, and wholeheartedly soulless...and is simply a categorical mess for all involved.  

That’s not to say that GODS OF EGYPT doesn’t have unbridled ambition.  It's got that piled as high as a pyramid.  With a vastly larger budget at his disposal than he’s typically accustomed to (closing in on $150 million), Proyas certainly has an underlining and epically scaled vision for this film in terms of tapping into ancient Egyptian mythology and showcasing an alternate historical world where gods did indeed walk among mortals.  The very thought of this kind of potentially opulent fantasy at the hands of a supremely gifted visual storyteller like Proyas is captivating to say the least.  



Alas, GODS OF EGYPT is a completely misguided failure, though, on a level of simple execution.  Much like last year's JUPITER ASCENDING (another abysmally awful fantasy film helmed by proven cinematic craftsmen that never once meaningfully capitalized on its core ideas), Proyas’ film is awash with so much wretched and ham-invested writing, so many repetitive and uninspired action beats, so many stilted and wooden performances, and so damn much (sigh) unconvincing CGI effects that border on punishing overkill that I simply found myself not caring within the first few minutes of the film.  I couldn’t even enjoy it on a level of pure camp value because, quite frankly, I don’t even think the people behind and in front of the camera had no idea what they were aiming for in terms of an intended tone. 

The film opens in, yes, ancient Egypt and we're introduced to the notion that the culture’s deities live, breathe, and actively engage with mankind (they appear as giants to the human beings, much akin to Gandalf’s size in relation to Hobbits in THE LORD OF THE RINGS films…albeit done with frustratingly less convincing visual effects).  One of the gods Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, achieving a rare performance dichotomy of trying to plays things fairly straight while looking quite ridiculous) is about to be deemed ruler of Egypt at a lavish ceremony, taking over the reigns from his father Osiris (Bryan Brown).  Unfortunately, Osiris’ brother Set (Gerard Butler, in obligatory nostrils flaring mode) crashes the festivities, and he'll be damned if he lets his nephew take control of Egypt when he has far more nefarious and self-serving plans of his own.  Particularly laughable is the notion that Butler and Coster-Waldau are a convincing uncle-nephew pair in the film, seeing as Butler is just one year older in real life…but never mind. 

Anyhoo’, Set takes over Egypt and usurps control over Horus after a huge skirmish, during which time Horus has his glowing blue eyes removed from his skull (not kidding), which is (I think) the primary source of his ability to shape-shift into battle-hardened creatures (oh, did I also mention that the gods bleed gold?).  Defeated, humiliated, and blind as a bat, Horus is forced into hiding as Set becomes an omnipotent and dictatorial tyrant over Egypt.  What Set doesn’t realize is that a young human in Bek (Brenton Thwaits) wishes to seek vengeance over his murdered lover Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and hopes to steal back Horus’ eyes, find Horus so he can put them back in his head, and thereby allowing him him to regain his magical powers to fight back against Set and help bring Zaya back from the dead.  Initially, Horus doesn’t seem to keen on helping Bek, but he soon acquiesces and the pair (along with some new allies) makes their way through monster-ravaged lands in order to stop Set once and for all. 

I’ve seen comedies with fewer laughs than GODS OF EGYPT, which is ultimately telling seeing as Proyas’ film isn’t an intentional comedy.  The film never really seems to embrace its giggle-inducing silliness the way it should, mostly because it’s populated with characters that are really hard to care about.  Actors – some decent ones at that – are given humdinger lines like “Give me my eyes!” and are somehow expected to make them work, but I’ll give props to Butler for at least acknowledging the sheer ludicrousness of his villainous, shape-shifting antagonist (extremely funny – and not entirely credible – is why an ancient Egyptian god would bellow out his lines with a thick and bass-heavy Scottish timbre).  Most of the other actors seem hopelessly lost in their roles, if not appearing mostly embarrassed throughout.   Thwaites has spunk, but is woefully generic as Horus’ youthful sidekick, whereas Coster-Waldau seems indifferent altogether about why he’s even in the film.  Even when a thespian titan like Geoffrey Rush appears (as Horus’ grandpa and sun god Ra, who lives on an orbital platform in space and whose purpose in the grand scheme of things is muddled and confusing) I felt pity for him.  

GODS OF EGYPT has been harshly and rightfully criticized for its largely whitewashed cast playing Middle Eastern characters (much as was the case with 2014’s EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS), but that is the least of the film’s multitude of problems.  Arguably, Proyas’ largest creative misstep here was his obsessive reliance on computer-generated visual effects, which casts an oppressive shadow over nearly every single scene and shot in this film, polluting it with an unsavory and uninspired artificiality that robs the film of a true sense of awe and wonder.  To be fair, some establishing shots of vast Egyptian cities are momentarily glossy and fetching, and the film has a modicum of fun in envisioning enormous beasties for the heroes to battle and conquer, but GODS OF EGYPT is so mournfully stifled by the sheer weight of its pixelized fakery that it left me feeling cold and distant.  Proyas seems to think that a limitless quantity of CGI versus subtle quality here, which is a grave misstep.  You know that you’re in trouble in a fantasy film that ostensibly relies on heavy digital tinkering when your best and most eyegasmic visual effect is Courtney Eaton’s ample cleavage. 

Ultimately, I simply didn’t have fun with GODS OF EGYPT.  It was a tiring soul-sucking endurance test of will for me (at 127 minutes, the film is punishingly long considering its material).  I love the idea of exploring fantastical Egyptian mythology and marrying that to the swords and sandal action genre, but the resulting final product here feels more like a cold and antiseptic video game with a chaotically rushed visual sheen than a fully realized cinematic genre mishmash worthy of our time and investment.  GODS OF EGYPT could have been a thrillingly immersive and dynamically realized fantasy film – especially considering Proyas' involvement – but by the time I left (or fled) the cinema after it was over I felt numbed into submission.  Films like this should inspire limitless and childlike awe and wonder, but GODS OF EGYPT mostly inspired tedious watch checking.  On the other hand, I did get to see a long pony-tailed Geoffrey Rush slash at a ridiculously colossal space-slug-like creature with sun bolts.  Granted, the actor didn’t really appear to know what he was doing in that scene…which obviously compliments and mirrors most of the creative forces behind this film

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