Review: If ‘GODS OF EGYPT’ Were Worse, It Would Be Better

Alex Proyas’s whitewashed adventure is dumb for sure, but not even campy enough to be enjoyable.

Only one god can save us… but not without his eyes.

–Zaya

This is all Chase Branch’s fault.

Or really, I should say it’s all my fault, because I lost the bet I made with him. Back in the fall, I foolishly believed that there would be some official announcement from George R.R. Martin on The Winds of Winter by the end of the calendar year; Chase, being more cynical (and more right), said otherwise. So we made a bet, and the loser had to review an upcoming (presumably terrible) film of the winner’s choice.

Obviously, I lost, and for my penance last night I dragged myself to the opening screening of Gods of Egypt. I can’t say there were more than a dozen people in the theater, and that probably doesn’t bode well for the film’s box office chances, but I had convinced myself to at least try to keep an open mind. Maybe it will be silly enough to at least be entertaining, I thought. Maybe it will have some cool visuals, I said to my friend. At least we’ll get plenty of shirtless Jamie Lannister, I whispered to my wife.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. For the first five minutes, a dizzying exposition dump of Egyptian pseudo-mythology via ostentatious voiceover (this takes place “before history began,” we’re told, which… okay?) and title cards with the letters spaced just a little too far apart, it seemed that might be true. We’re talking about a movie where the ‘gods of Egypt’ are portrayed as gold-blooded giants, who guard the gates of the afterlife when not throwing lavish parties for themselves. Also, almost all of them are white. A recent Last Week Tonight segment asked how this kind of whitewashing is “still a thing” in Hollywood, but Alex Proyas (“The Visionary Director of I, Robot,” we’re supposed to believe) gave the same feeble answers as Ridley Scott did on Exodus: the film just wouldn’t get financed otherwise. In this case, everyone involved would have been better off not bothering.

A flagrantly Scottish Gerard Butler plays Set, the god of chaos and the desert; as throngs of CGI extras choke a CGI Nile, he crashes the royal ceremony where his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is to be named heir to the king. Butler struts around for a while, than transforms into a metallic robo-jackal (I guess?) and kills Horus’s parents with a laser spear or something. (Honestly, it was kind of hard to follow, and not just because the effects were truly bad.) Then, to add insult to injury, he yanks Horus’s magical eyes — which allow him to, like, zoom in on stuff and never miss — out of his head. Set names himself king, banishes Horus, and sets about (heh!) doing bad things because it’s fun and because he can.

Unfortunately, the gods’ glistening, greenscreen-chewing double-crossing is secondary to the story that writers Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless really want us to care about: the romantic saga of Bek and Zaya, local poors. He’s a young thief, blander than a saltine cracker, and Brendon Thwaites (The Giver) is given a thankless job in making him interesting, a job he fails at. As Zaya, who is seemingly quite clever but not enough to dump this loser, Courtney Eaton — perfectly adequate in Mad Max: Fury Road — only has one mode here, and that’s “breathy whisper.” Together, they stunt any inertia the film might have had (which is very little), but they’re as let down by the hapless writing as they are by each other.

Eventually, after Bek steals one of Horus’s eyes in one ludicrous sequence, Zaya takes an arrow to the heart and dies; the story lurches forward as Bek lures Horus out of retirement — the grumpy god will bring the girl back from the afterlife if he can get his revenge. There’s an added ticking clock element in that if Zaya reaches the “Seventh Gate” (which will take her “several days,” because that’s what the script requires) without any treasure to give, her soul will be doomed. Or something. Look, it honestly doesn’t matter. They gotta do a thing, so they can do another thing, then another thing, and the inevitable climax atop Set’s Lord Business tower plays like a C-level superhero movie.

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In short, Gods of Egypt isn’t kooky enough. All throughout the film, you can feel it struggling with how seriously it wants to take itself; the dialogue whiplashes between purple, DeMille-ian turns of phrase (“God of the air, you must protect the mortals!”) and limp one-liners that land like a fallen obelisk. The action sequences, which feature more running away from fireballs than the last Mission: Impossible movie, are a migrane-inducing mishmash of sword-and-sandal derring-do and random bursts of spinning bullet-time; why Nilla Wafer Bek can spend most of the film flipping around like a ninja warrior but nearly gets his butt handed to him by Rufus Sewell in a skirt is never explained. It’s sloppy in practical ways, too: on a few of the film’s many scale-effects shots (often simple forced perspective, just placing a mortified Coster-Waldau closer to the camera) the eyelines don’t meet up; in one obvious instance, they apparently forgot to spirit gum Horus’s eyepatch down. How did this film cost $140 million dollars?

Not that no one is having fun. Butler is fully committed, tearing into every monologue like it’s Shakespeare; when he flies from scene to scene on a chariot of dung beetles, it’s hard not to at least appreciate the lunacy of it all. Chadwick Boseman, last seen as James Brown in Get On Up, makes the most of being the token black actor in a movie about Africans as Thoth, the vain, sassy god of knowledge; the scene where the gang comes to his library for help is one of the few I’d call half-cleverly staged. And, lest I bury the lead too deeply, Gods of Egypt features GEOFFREY RUSH ON A SPACESHIP. (Should I explain that, or just let you wonder? Again, it doesn’t matter.) He’s Ra, Horus’s grandfather, and he spends much of his screen time yelling off screen at a gargantuan space worm that’s trying to eat the world. Every beat of the plot is clearly telegraphed far ahead of time, but at least Rush is pretending like it’s not.

What I’m saying is, this stupid movie has enough elements to at least be entertainingly bad, the kind of thing you put on while folding laundry because it gives you eye candy while requiring no thought. Instead, it’s largely unfunny and mostly just boring, devoting page after page of dialogue to romances both mortal and immortal that no one cares about, all so Horus can learn some kind of valuable life lesson about… being nice, I think? Whatever its message, it feels like it takes four hours to get there.

I really don’t want to write any more about it. Chase, I will have my revenge.

Grade: D

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