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April 16, 2024

Gods of Egypt fails to achieve full potential

By TIM FREBORG | March 10, 2016


Gage Skidmore/CC-by-SA-2.0 Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars in Gods of Egypt as Horus, an Egyptian god who seeks vengeance.

t’s safe to say that films with a sort of mythological basis to their plots have a sort of allure to them. At the very least, Hollywood seems to think so. Whether from an animated musical rendition of the legend of Hercules from Disney, or the slow motion bastion of memes that was Zach Snyder’s 300, audiences have always been fascinated with entering ancient worlds full of heroes, gods and epic quests. While such films have never exactly been accurate to their historical or cultural roots, they’ve still managed to ingrain themselves into popular culture with their magical, grandiose simplicity.

That said, a vast majority of these films tend to focus themselves around the ancient Greek and Roman pantheons, and the heroes and figures hailed by those societies. It isn’t very often that filmmakers opt to step away from the safe, familiar territory of Hercules, Perseus and Achilles. Enter Gods of Egypt, directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot), setting a tale far from Zeus’ reign in favor of that of Ra. With such a rich history and mythos at its disposal and several seasoned actors in lead roles, Gods of Egypt had all the makings of a rich, exciting adventure.

Unfortunately, for all it’s potential, all Gods manages to deliver is arguably the worst mythical adventure since Clash of the Titans. By the end of its excruciating two hour runtime, I was left wishing there was something as stupidly hilarious as a cheesy robot owl in the film, at least then I could have laughed.

The film is set in a mythical Ancient Egypt, where towering gods walk among mortal men. One fateful day, at the royal heir-apparent Horus’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) coronation ceremony, the former godly king is killed by his brother, Set (Gerard Butler), in a bid for power over the mortal realm.

Witnessing the death of his father, Horus assumes his godly form and challenges Set, but is soundly defeated by the elder god. In punishment, his eyes are gouged out (thus stripping him of his powers), and he is cast into exile.

Unopposed, Set institutes a regime of oppression, conscripting the masses into slavery and instituting punishing taxes on souls seeking entrance to the afterlife. Some time later, a slave girl named Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and her thief husband Bek (Brenton Thwaites) hatch a plan to retrieve Horus’ eyes so that the god may return and reclaim the throne.

However, all does not go according to plan and soon the cast is entrapped in an adventurous struggle for power that will take them to the brink of death and, occasionally, beyond.

Admittedly, I am not a scholar of Egyptian mythology. I cannot judge how accurately this film portrays its deities and heroic figures (though my gut gives me a general idea). What I am capable of discerning is whether a film’s story works on its own, and, in that regard, Gods of Egypt fails miserably.

On paper, this shouldn’t be the case: Audiences are given an exiled king, a motley crew of adventurers and an evil usurper who needs to be taken down. For all accounts, this ought to be a very simple story, and it would be if not for the film’s ardent refusal to actually tell it.

From its first scene to its last, the film’s story runs the gamut from being insultingly simplistic to ludicrously convoluted. At nearly every corner, fresh new plot threads and devices are conjured out of thin air, with little regard for narrative cohesion. In fact, the film seems to have very little interest in telling a story at all, seeming much more content in letting every scene serve as a simple setup for the next round of cheesy, poorly-rendered CGI action.

Apparently, director Proyas was under the impression that fake-looking gold blood and animalistic Iron-Man rip-offs were more important to the viewing experience than little things like, say, character development.

What’s more, at several points throughout the movie, entire characters and story arcs are introduced, yet receive no proper address or resolution by the film’s end. For those few that are addressed, resolutions are given in such an offhanded, throwaway manner that it’s a wonder they were even introduced at all. The end result is a story that is hugely unsatisfying and gives little reason to care about anything that’s happening on screen at any given time.

None of this is aided by the cast of the film, who have severely disappointed this time around. For those who haven’t followed the issue, Gods of Egypt received heavy criticism from the time of its announcement for its white-washed cast.

In traditional Hollywood fashion, instead of opting for an ethnically and culturally accurate cast for its mythological film, it instead chose a nearly all-white British cast. While the questionable ethics of such casting practices are certainly cause for concern (and yes, very jarring in the film itself), the situation certainly isn’t helped by the fact that the actors in question give dismal performances.

Coster-Waldau, despite his notoriety for his excellent performance in Game of Thrones, is dreadfully bland and has absolutely no chemistry with his lesser-known co-stars. Of course, this that may not be his fault as none of the other cast members have chemistry with each other either. Gerard Butler fares a bit better, bringing the same hammy energy he brought to his work in 300. Unfortunately, whether it’s due to the script or maybe the character itself, he doesn’t capture that same level of power and interest he did back in 2007.

Gods of Egypt is truly a painful watch. Its story is dull and broken, its characters are bland and even its CGI action sequences aren’t pleasant to watch. Whereas something as epically bad as Clash of the Titans, or its remake/sequel are hilarious in their failure, Gods of Egypt fails to achieve even that.

Overall rating: 1/10

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