Perhaps it isn’t fair to pass judgment on a movie based on its promotional campaign, but it’ll probably come as no surprise that the first set of posters for Gods of Egypt that dropped back in November are a pretty good representation of the quality of the final film.
The movie takes place in ancient Egypt and centers on the rivalry between Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his uncle Set (Gerard Butler). When Osiris (Bryan Brown) decides to bestow the crown upon his son instead of his brother, Set ruins Horus’ coronation by sparking a battle during which Set robs Horus of his most prized possession, his all seeing eyes. Defeated and powerless, Horus goes into hiding while Set plunges the empire into chaos. However, all hope is not lost thanks to one especially gutsy mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites). With Bek’s help, Horus might be able to pull himself back together and take the throne from Set.
Gods of Egypt is a terrible movie, but it could have fallen into “so bad, it’s good” or perhaps “so ridiculous, it’s fun” territory had director Alex Proyas embraced the absurdity of the material and reassessed the tone of the film. For the most part, Gods of Egypt takes itself very seriously, drowning in scowls and all-business talk regarding how the gods rule the world. Had this been a more faithful or thoughtful representation of Egyptian mythology, perhaps that approach might have worked, but we’re talking about a movie with Iron Man-like gods, giant sand snakes and Geoffrey Rush riding a space boat. If you don’t go all out and have some fun with it, all that’s left to do it laugh at it.
And it certainly doesn’t help that the film’s heroes are painfully one note. Coster-Waldau has absolutely no charisma as Horus. Before Set steals the crown, all we see him do is take a bath with the Goddess of Love, Hathor (Elodie Yung). After Set takes control, he walks around with a huge frown on his face while incessantly picking on the only person who bothers to help him out, Bek. There’s no reason to like Horus or think that, as a leader, he’d have the mortals’ best interest in mind. However, I still much prefer Coster-Waldau’s lifeless performance to Thwaites’ mindless nonsense.
There’s a big difference between bravery and stupidity, but no one working on this movie took that into account. Bek is supposed to be the heroic mortal who’s willing to risk his life to help Horus restore order to Egypt, but Bek’s achievements don’t stem from smart planning or a unique physical prowess. He just keeps getting lucky, and it’s impossible to get a thrill out of it because not only is it absolutely ridiculous, but also because the character is so obnoxious. Whereas Horus is sullen and dejected for the large majority of the film, Bek is supposed to be brimming with determination and hope, but Thwaites takes it way too far, stripping the character of all other emotions.
Butler’s character certain isn’t anything special, but he does make an effort to sell Set as a formidable enemy while hamming it up to make him feel appropriate amidst this nonsensical CG romp. The only cast member who really seems to understand the movie he’s in is Chadwick Boseman. Despite the fact that he’s forced to strut around in a costume that looks like it belongs in a completely different film, Boseman still shines as Thoth, the god of wisdom. His character’s abilities are the most interesting and his genius also lends itself to some of the best jokes in the film. Yung also manages to make an impression as Hathor because her powers are far more complex than Horus’ and also because Yung strikes an appealing balance between her strong, steely edge and also respecting the fact that her character has feelings.
Again, it’s probably no surprise that the movie is a technical mess as well. All of the settings and creatures look fake and cheap, and while there is some fun to be had while watching Rush become engulfed in flames and fight a giant monster from his space boat, it’s hard to forget the fact that the filmmakers funneled so much cash into such nonsense. Rather than put the focus on creating a few fantastic creatures and sets, the team behind Gods of Egypt opted to make a road trip movie with an abundance of awful looking monsters. As for the action, most fight scenes have this odd mix of photo real shots and others that feel entirely digital. They don’t match and wind up highlighting the flaws in the CG work. There’s also countless shots where it’s impossible not to picture the actors surrounded by green screen, the worst of which comes when Bek tries to escape an enemy on a horse drawn carriage. It looks more like a green screen party gag than a scene from a big budget film. And don’t even get me started on the terrible decision to make the god characters twice as tall as the humans.
I wanted to have fun with Gods of Egypt, but there’s a limit to the “so bad, it’s good” appeal. For example, Jupiter Ascending isn’t a good film, but it’s still possible to enjoy watching it because there’s an intense and very palpable passion to it that draws you in. Gods of Egypt, on the other hand, feels lazy and hollow.