GODS OF EGYPT Movie Review
Well-intentioned, but overly glorified, Gods of Egypt is a gaudy reminder that style is not a substitute for substance. Alex Proyas shows an occasional flair for action and the dramatics, but a cliched script, along with overly simplistic characters, makes the film feel as old as the story it attempts to tell.
For years, filmmakers dreamed of being able to do things with a camera that just could not be done; create effects that dazzled the senses, find camera angles that defied the mobility of the equipment of the time, and to take audiences on a journey they could not believe. Over the years, number of films that have been able to accomplish such a feat; some heavy on visual effects and some not. While the advent of CGI opened up a world of possibilities for directors who could bring their wildest dreams to life, it also left the door open for the possibility of missteps. The chance that filmmakers would get so lost in the splendor of their beautiful creation that they would lose sight of the real beauty of filmmaking: to tell a good story. More than visuals, more than the soundtrack, more than the locations, what people have always connected with is the ability to relate to what’s on screen and find its relevance to their lives. That ability is what separates movies from any other art form; always has and likely always will.
Well, not all movies.
While I did not enjoy Gods of Egypt, as this review will reflect, I have to say that I was not as disappointed as I could have been given the appropriate expectations upon its initial marketing. This was not labeled as a potential Oscar winning production, but as a popcorn-action flick to turn your brain off and enjoy. Films like these can often be very divisive, as the level of enjoyment one can attain from simply “having fun and being entertained” as opposed to having a “transcendent film experience” is extremely subjective, like all film. However, my goal in reviewing films has been to evaluate movies across all levels, not solely on how much fun they may be while ignoring other vital aspects of filmmaking. While I debated whether or not to delve into the controversy that has surrounded the film’s reception, I decided it is an important and relevant topic to discuss, as I am an aspiring critic, even if it isn’t directly related to the review of the film. If you have not read Director Alex Proyas’s Facebook rant, you can do so HERE for context.
I abhor the excessive bashing of any film because, at heart, I want to love all movies. However, that does not mean that films are beyond reproach, and holding filmmakers accountable is necessary in the efforts to keep the quality of movies high. Proyas has responded to the negative reception to his film with a tirade posted on Facebook deriding the film critic community, calling critics “a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass” and “less than worthless.” While Proyas is as entitled to his opinion on critics as they are entitled to make remarks about his film, his case contradicts the very expression that films sought: the ability for people to be able to express themselves. There is a difference in art form from word to film, but being able to delicately, and intelligently, articulate not just why you don’t enjoy something, but why it is inherently flawed isn’t altogether different from any other art form.
There is a saying, “Those who can do, those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, become critics.” While there is some truth in that statement in certain cases, there is also a great deal of error in this specific instance. First off, it ignores the subjectivity in evaluating films, that is just as open as with any art form. Second, it forgets that in order to understand how something should be completed does not require you to have done it yourself. Third, just because you can teach something does not mean that you are better than those who are not able to pass information onto others. It’s a fun phrase to throw shade at critics, but it is nothing more than that. Proyas can opinion on critics and critics can have their opinion on whether his film is any good.
With that rant aside, Gods of Egypt is failure in that it executes little well except for the spectacle of CGI that the film rests upon. Not mentioning the controversial whitewashing of the cast, that includes no actors of Egyptian descent in a film that has Egypt in the title, the movie has no memorable characters when it should have had close to a handful. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Horus in a restrained manner, one of the few in the film, but his journey is far less interesting than intended and his character rather bland. Gerard Butler is entertaining as Set, as his over the top performance plays more comical than anything, but he feels far too much like a petulant child than someone you can relate to in any regard. Brenton Thwaites continues to struggle in finding his niche in Hollywood while possessing the looks and physicality required of headlining stars, but has lacked a true breakout performance to hang his name onto. Once more, Thwaites is acceptable in Gods of Egypt, but his character Bek, a mortal thief, is so lazily written that he is unable to take the role of the person the audience sees the film through. Bek plays out like a pseudo Aladdin-esque character, but in many ways is too perfect to be able to relate to. Driving the point further is Courtney Eaton as Zaya, the love interest of Bek, but their romance is too forced and is never properly developed. Eaton does her best to manage, but is given almost nothing to work with except being doe eyed and looking beautiful.
Furthermore, one of the biggest tragedies of Gods of Egypt is that it brings little of what it actually advertises in just that: Gods. Horus and Set take center stage, but token appearances from Ra, played zanily by Geoffrey Rush, Thoth, played oddly by Chadwick Boseman, and Osiris, played all too fleetingly by Bryan Brown, are but mere afterthoughts in the greater picture. Other Gods show up in the background, but offer little to the overall plot or are barely recognized.
Proyas, to his credit, does well in directing the pure, grandiose imagery and chaotic action in Gods of Egypt. Although there is an overabundance of CGI used, many times it plays to the benefit of the film with sequences involving enormous serpents and vast cityscapes. In this elements Proyas excels, showing the same steady hand that worked in his earlier works like 1994s The Crow. Where Proyas falters is in handling the more subtle moments that make the story elements of films work, most importantly story and characters. Directors are not entirely to blame for the scripts they are handed, but they can help alter the course of direction a movie is headed and in that way Proyas has to be held accountable for the failures of Gods of Egypt. Writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are the same duo who worked on films such as 2015s The Last Witch Hunter and 2014s Dracula Untold, similarly received fantasy blockbusters. It is difficult to criticize writers far more creative than myself, but it is becoming clear that while the scope of their vision is wide, they lack the ability to fine tune a film as of now. I did not find Gods of Egypt as offensively bad as many critics did, but it undeniably falls short across the board on all fronts.
I admire the ambition of Gods of Egypt in continuing the sword and sandals style epics, a genre that has somewhat lost its way in recent times, I truly do. However, studios would be wise to take note of what has and hasn’t worked well for comic book movies in recent times as true fantasy epics have lost steam outside of those that were previously highly successful novels. Sadly, true original fantasy screenplays just don’t resonate with modern audiences, whether their origins be based in religion or mythology. As a fan of the genre, creative writing, and film altogether, I hope that at some point they can regain their footing in the industry. In the near future there may yet be an original film and story that can reinvigorate the category. Sadly, Gods of Egypt is not that film.
Gods of Egypt is directed by Alex Proyas and stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Chadwick Boseman, and Geoffrey Rush.