GODS OF EGYPT
2016, PG-13, 127 mins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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