Film Review: Gods of Egypt

Release Date: February 26, 2016

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Gods of Egypt is an expensive retelling of Egyptian mythology, chiefly Horus’ war with Set. Thought up in 2012 and filmed in 2014, the film for some reason took until early 2016 to get its theatrical release, perhaps from heavy amounts of post-production for all the CGI. Due to a stupid-looking trailer and the hiring of white actors for the roles of Ancient Egyptians, general movie audiences were already against the motion picture before its release, resulting in what is easily a major box office flop. As of the time of this review it’s made about half of its budget back.

The main plot centers on Horus, who after having his eyes pulled out and his father Osiris murdered, sulks in a tomb. Set, Osiris’ murder, takes over Egypt. Things change for Horus when human thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) hands him back one of his eyes. The two embark on a quest to restore the kingdom for Horus and get revenge of Set.

I should probably talk about the casting first, as it generated great controversy. Since Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia, money was saved by hiring many Australian actors. Arguably a few of the native peoples could have been used, but most of Australia’s more well regarded actors are white. No such excuse exists for the hiring of white Europeans like Gerald Butler (Set) and Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau (Horus). I have to admit it was pretty hilarious to hear the grand Egyptian god of the desert roaring in a Scottish accent. That’s not to say the cast is all-white. Thoth is played by African-American Chadwick Boseman, who also attempts a more African accent. Elodie Young, a French actress of mixed descent, looks quite right for major Egyptian goddess Hathor.

The director, Alex Proyas, has defended his casting decisions and deviations from historical accuracy by saying that his film is set in an alternate world. This would seem to be the case, as the world is both flat and Egypt-centric as presented in the original myths. The question is, does the film succeed in spite of white-washed casting and complaints about accuracy?

Not really. It isn’t the complete pile of crap that many critics are saying it is. It’s fun and has some really cool visuals. Where it really fails is in its screenwriting. Gods of Egypt tries really hard to have a lot of humor like the Marvel movies. It seems every time something dangerous or serious is happening, a quip just has to be made. A more epic, serious movie would have been much better, especially since the jokes more often than not don’t land. One exception is the vain, overly honest, knowledge-obsessed Thoth, who is legitimately funny.

This film is CGI heavy, perhaps too much. It looks like actual landscapes were filmed, but the senses can potentially be overloaded by all the perfect architecture, computer-generated animals, and crazy colors. Even when people are talking in a desert the sky is CGI red like they’re trapped ina  video game. The creatures themselves don’t look realistic either, however well-designed they may be. Fans of Egyptian history will also be displeased to see some of the aesthetic choices, such as a European crown instead of the tall pharaoh hats during the coronation scene.

Almost the entire character list is made up of the gods themselves. I didn’t find any of the performances awful unless you count Gerald Butler’s over-acting, which I found entertaining. Also entertaining was Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who does a good job of portraying a wise and weary primal deity. Assisting the cast of gods is the human thief Bek, who seems to be permanently stuck in an optimistic, naïve state. In the interest of spoilers I won’t give away his main storyline. It’s sympathetic enough, but despite the films’ efforts I didn’t find his character all too endearing. In fact, he was annoying.

If I had to compare Gods of Egypt to anything else, I would choose the Clash of the Titans remake and its awful sequel Wrath of the Titans in that it’s a hyper, CGI-fueled retelling of old myths. The main contrast is in how the gods are portrayed. In most movies and shows based on Greek myths, the gods are (rather correctly) portrayed as jerkasses who act on their whims and emotions and who humanity must eventually rebel against. Most of the deities in Gods of Egypt are more noble, though still flawed. The authority of Ra and Horus are considered good for the universe, not destructive.

Gods of Egypt is not a great movie and though I enjoyed it I can’t even call it a good one. I recommend a theatrical viewing only if you want to have a fun, silly way to kill a couple hours, or perhaps you want to support a mythology-based movie, of which there aren’t very many outside of Greek-inspired tales.

Rating: 4/10

Being a mythology buff, I’d like to go into more detail about how the various Egyptian gods are portrayed in Gods of Egypt. There will be spoilers in this section. First I want to address a specific scene.

Osiris is ready to coronate Horus in front of all the gods and people (save Ra, who is off on his space boat keeping the world safe from Apophis). Set comes in and signals an army of humans and monster-gods to take things over. Osiris demands him to stop and Set stabs him to death for his troubles. Horus takes on his battle form to fight him. What bugs me about this scene is how all of the gods, some who are shown to have great fighting capabilities later on, all cower and quiver like a bunch of wussies. You’ve got Thoth and Isis, two masters of magic. And it’s not like the original myths where Set was trying to murder Osiris and his family but wasn’t out to be an awful ruler. Here he’s openly declaring that he will turn all humans into slaves and rig the afterlife to generate more revenue for him. Why don’t they do something? Why do they let him get away with it and fight him later instead of nipping his takeover in the bud?

Anat and Astarte (Abbey Lee and Yaya Deng): The two Near Eastern goddesses are actually in this movie, though instead of being Set’s wives they are presented as his military commanders, riding snakes into battle. Myth buffs hoping to see them finally on the big screen will be disappointed, as they are little more than henchwomen, not two of the most popular female deities of the ancient world.

Anubis (Goran D. Kleut): Anubis is portrayed as usual as a dog-headed deity. Also as usual he is mistakenly presented as the main god of death, though this time he’s just doing his job and isn’t some evil god of darkness.

Apophis: The great serpent is accurately depicted as trying to engulf the universe in chaos. The special effects team decided to make him a worm instead of a snake, with three circular rows of teeth. Initially just a cameo, he does play a larger part in the film’s climax.

Hathor (Elodie Yung): The goddess of love is presented as a bit mischievous and serves as the love interest of Horus. Thankfully they didn’t equate the role of goddess of love with a lusty whore and she’s a strong character in her own right. She fights through magic, her lion form of Sekhmet not mentioned or used. Her hat has cow horns, a nice callout to her cow form. There’s some weird backstory about her being indebted to demons of the underworld.

Horus (Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau): The main character of the movie, Horus is an okay character. He spends a lot of his time complaining and he utters many of the not-funny quips. His winged falcon battle form is pretty cool though.

Isis (Rachael Blake): Thanks to a certain terrorist organization in the Middle East, Isis’ role is tremendously reduced. As Horus’ mother in the myths, she was heavily present, using her sorcery and guile to aid her son in his war against Set. It’s a shame that fears over associating with an army of Jihadists had my favorite Egyptian deity reduced to the role of “mother” (she is never referred to by name!). She just helplessly reacts to what happens in the opening and then dies offscreen of grief. You won’t see the beautiful, intelligent, and protective character of myth here.

Nephthys (Emma Boothe): Referred to as a goddess of protection instead as one of darkness, death, and night, Nephthys is an okay character. To my appreciation they acknowledge that she was married to Set in the myths. She’s one of the last holdouts against Set’s rule in the film.

Osiris (Bryan Brown): Osiris is the wise father of Horus and gets killed off to kickstart the story. No mention is made of him eventually being resurrected as the green-skinned god of the dead. In contradiction to the myths, Horus is already born before his murder, instead of having Isis reassemble his corpse in order to produce an heir.

Ra (Geoffrey Rush): Like in the myths, Ra is dragging the sun around the earth, in this film literally doing so by tying it to his ship with a chain. What’s absent is the many gods who usually would assist him in battling Apophis. Here he’s all by himself, which does make him more badass. He also serves as the wise mentor figure for Horus.

Set (Gerald Butler): Set was villainous in the myths, but here he’s an absolute bastard. They rip off Hades’ backstory form Clash of the Titans, making him the jealous brother stuck with the least desired realm, in this case the desert. Like Horus he has a pretty awesome armored battle form, based on the mysterious Set animal. He’s an entertaining villain, even though he engages in all kinds of villain clichés.

Thoth (Chadwick Boseman): Thoth is depicted as an aloof nerd who is obsessed with obtaining all knowledge. His mastery over sorcery is only hinted at and he is shown using his brain. It was very amusing to watch him struggle with a riddle when my friend sitting next to me in the theater solved in instantly. The film doesn’t mention any association with the ibis bird or baboon.

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