As I was watching Gods of Egypt, I was reminded of an episode of Disney’s often-criticized version of Doug. The episode involved a big-shot character named Guy being inspired by a Broadway show to make a musical based on the Mona Lisa. He asks a goofy character named Skeeter to write it.
Skeeter asks: “What’s the story?”
To which Guy responds: “Who cares? It’s the most famous painting ever! It’s gotta be (great), right?”
Guy proceeds to tell Skeeter: “Just remember, it’s gotta be big! Big! BIG! Lights, songs, explosions!”
Skeeter has trouble thinking of a story, so Doug hands him a book of fairy tales. Skeeter ends up writing a cliched story that pretty much rips off Cinderella, and Guy loves it.
And then it hit me: in 1997, Disney’s Doug predicted the inception of Gods of Egypt almost two decades later. Alex Proyas probably skimmed a book on Egyptian mythology and ordered a big-budget blockbuster based on his perception of it. He then proceeded to hire two hapless writers to fulfill his fantasy with absolutely no attention to the story or its characters. Say what you want about Disney’s Doug, but it made a solid prediction if you ask me.
NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS.
Gods of Egypt is the story of an Egyptian god named Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who is heir to Egypt’s throne. However, bitter god named Set (Gerard Butler) robs him of his powers and takes the throne in a coup d’etat. Set enslaves the non-wealthy people of Egypt and it is up to a plucky mortal thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to help return Horus to the throne.
The plot sounds simple, but the story unfortunately veers into a sandstorm of subplots just short of Jupiter Ascending levels. One subplot involves Horus and Set trying to earn the respect of their father Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who is god of the sun. Another subplot involves the goddess of love Hathor (Elodie Yung) trying to escape from Set’s kingdom and reunite with her lover, Horus. Yet another subplot involves Bek striking a deal with Horus to help return him to the throne in exchange from getting his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) back from the afterlife. Just like with Jupiter, none of these subplots work in a film too preoccupied with trying to be eye candy.
The subplot involving Bek and Zaya especially fails because the two have zero romantic chemistry and barely share any screen time together to make the audience care about them. Besides recite a few one-liners, the only thing Bek does for Zaya is steal a dress for her and recite cliche’d dialogue about how they’re going to run off together one day. Other than that, they are given absolutely no development besides some bland exposition at the beginning. I often hear people criticize Aladdin and Jasmine for being bland characters in Disney’s Aladdin, but they are far more developed than these two.
How are we introduced to Aladdin? He shows off his charisma in a big musical number by stealing some bread and later gives some of it to a poor child. It’s a memorable first impression that sticks with the audience.
How are we introduced to Bek? He quickly steals a dress and spouts off exposition with Zaya. Moreover, while Jasmine was shown to be an ambitious princess who tired of her life in the palace, Zaya was just there as a plot device.
Speaking of Disney, one can’t help but notice how shamelessly Gods of Egypt steals common plot elements from other Disney films.
A plucky street rat who goes on an adventure? Stolen from Aladdin.
The main character having to save his girlfriend from the afterlife? Stolen from Hercules.
A bitter brother taking over the throne and turning the kingdom into a dictatorship? Stolen from The Lion King.
While Disney doesn’t exactly own these plot elements, the fact that they worked so well in those animated films just goes to show how utterly uninspired Gods of Egypt is.
The script isn’t the only problem with this film though; the editing is just as bad. While the editing isn’t as awful as something like Taken 3, it still cuts way more than it should. Fight scenes are coherent enough, but the editing has absolutely no rhythm with the film itself, and cuts are often sporadic or too early. One fight scene ends with a giant snake bursting into flames. In what seems like two seconds, the film transitions from the characters running from the explosion to the characters slowly walking outside of a cave reciting witty banter. Seriously, it is that jarring.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with this film is the overload of lavish but cheap special effects. I have never in my life seen a film so appropriately fit the textbook definition of “style over substance” than this one. Even though the costumes and props appear appropriately lavish, they still look artificial on screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the production team went to JC Penny and bought whatever costume jewelry they could find. This film has a $140 million budget, but most of the money clearly went to the CG effects instead of the costumes.
The CG effects are just as lavish and unconvincing. Whether its incoherent flares of color or random creatures, almost every scene has some kind of special effect in it. The gods shed gold blood, they have glowing jewels for brains, and they ride chariots pulled by giant flying scarab beetles. Even the scenes with the humans interacting with the gods (in human form) need bad digital effects.
Because the gods are much taller than the humans, characters like Horus are constantly turning into unconvincing CG models when sharing the screen with a mortal character. The film often tries to hide the obvious effects with dark lighting, but if you have a good eye, you can certainly tell the difference between a real Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and a fake one. Though to be fair, his performance was so robotic that it was sometimes hard to tell.
Besides Coster-Waldau’s dull acting, the rest of the performances are nothing special. Gerard Butler is occasionally fun to watch but is mostly just a boring villain and Brenton Thwaits is just average. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Thoth, however, is a whole nother story.
The best comparison I could make to Boseman’s performance is Kurt Cobain’s singing on a 1991 episode of Top of the Pops. After being told to sing over a pre-recorded backing track, Kurt was irritated at the show’s producers. He then proceeded to sing in a humorously low and goofy voice to protest being told what to do. In Gods of Egypt, Boseman speaks in a bizzare accent while constantly making eccentric pauses while he speaks. His character is also seen rambling on about a hunk of lettuce. Boseman has proven himself as an actor, so it seemed like he was acting this way on purpose to vent his confusion at such a pointless production. If there’s anything worth seeing in this film, it’s seeing Boseman punk the entire production.
Besides Boseman, the only other positive thing I could say about this film is that the aformentioned scene with the giant snakes was pretty slick and entertaining to watch. Of course, it would have been better if the characters were actually worth caring about, but it was still pretty fun. Otherwise, Gods of Egypt just feels like an enormous waste of time and resources. Lionsgate clearly wanted a film that looked big so that they could churn out a new franchise after the end of the Hunger Games movies. If you’re looking for a better story set in Egypt, I highly recommend checking out the Rugrats Passover special instead. The holiday’s just around the corner after all!
Final Rating: 3/10