Gods of Egypt is Alex Proyas’ first film in 7 years, known for noir inspired cult classics The Crow and Dark City and the science fiction adventure I, Robot. Proyas films are always known for their atmospheric and inspiring production and costume design.
Gods of Egypt takes place in a fantastical ancient Egypt, and tells the tale of Horus played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a would-be god king who is overthrown by his jealous uncle, Set played by Gerard Butler, on the day he is supposed to be crowned. With the aid of a mortal thief, Bek, Horus swears vengeance on Set.
Gods of Egypt seems like a blast from the past, a nostalgic yarn seemingly inspired by the fantasy films of the 1980s. Films that, while tremendously flawed, offer the audience to a world that we will never ever experience (judging by the film’s box office performance, we won’t be seeing a film like this in a long time). Gods of Egypt is cut from the same cloth as Flash Gordon, Krull and Dune. These films are all known for their gorgeous production and costume design, and detailed world building. On the other hand, they are also infamous for their weak narrative, performances and overly ambitious special effects.
With that said, Gods of Egypt does have glaring flaws, and shares many of them with the fantasy films of the 80s. Its screenplay is bogged down in the standard three act structure and is extremely predictable, I would say Bek and Horus’ journey to seek out Set is a variation of the overused ‘Hero’s Journey’. The dialogue is ham-fisted and conversations between characters don’t add anything to the film, they only seem to serve the purpose of filling audio space. Due to this, there is almost no character development, we are ushered from one scene to another, each scene an individual silo that is part of a bigger film. The editing exacerbates this problem by having jarring cuts from one scene to another, we usually end one scene with a one liner, and then we cut to an establishing shot of the next scene. With no easing into the next scene, this creates a very awkward rhythm and takes not only takes the viewer out of the film but also create unintentionally comedic moments.
While there is controversy regarding the casting of the film, there are attempts at diversity in Gods of Egypt; however it only makes the problem more glaring. The diversity only applies to the peripheral characters or extras, all of whom spend all their time on screen worshipping the gods, who are played by white actors, making it much worse than it already is. Nevertheless, while it would have helped the film had there been more a diversified principle cast, even if they did cast actors who look like Egyptians, this does not solve many of the film’s problems.
The performances the actors have given aren’t bad but they just come across as too generic. Gerard Butler’s Set, comes across as an amalgam of cocky gym bro and grumpy uncle, infusing Set with his rugged charm so that every time he is on screen, he steals the show. But the dialogue and one liners are a burden to his character and turns him into a caricature of a villain. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is grim and stone faced as Horus but is otherwise serviceable as the lead but one would expect more from the man who played the Kingslayer in Game of Thrones. The rest of the cast, Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) give passable performances as the star crossed lovers, not that they are given much to do besides look pretty and pout. Between the generic performances, gawky editing and formulaic screenplay, the biggest gripe with Gods of Egypt could be despite its gorgeous visuals, it plays it too safe and the film misses out on a lot of narrative and creative opportunities that would have enhanced the film.
As with Dune and Flash Gordon, visually is where the film shines. Literally. Gods of Egypt is a glittery feast of silver and gold. The world is a unique achievement in cinematic visual worldbuilding, filled with lush vistas, golden spires and ethereal locations. The film’s CGI tends to overreach its ambition on occasions but it is one of the film’s lesser issues and ambition can rarely ever be faulted. The scenes that present the best looking CGI are the ones that offer an exquisite look at mythological figures and creatures, sequences on Ra’s celestial barge are awe-inspiring and Ra’s eternal battle with Apophis is a truly a sight to behold. The action sequence in the desert when Bek and Horus battle the giant twin snakes is a definite highlight as well, as we see our heroes struggle against the monstrous serpents. It is these utterly outrageous moments of mythmaking that make the film rise from its generic trappings.
Alex Proyas does some of the weirdest popcorn flicks ever, they don’t just entertain or make you think, they go out of their way to rethink your tastes in film. Gods of Egypt unfortunately doesn’t exactly do any of those but it works as an entertaining throwback to the fantasy genre of the 1980s. It is a flawed film that plays it too frustratingly safe, but is bailed out by the crazy visuals that suggest a greater ambition to showcase Egyptian mythology.
Gods of Egypt has a few bright and beautiful moments, but it is weighed down by its glaring flaws and formulaic approach.