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When I sat down for my screening of Gods of Egypt, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. As somebody who writes about movies for a living, this one seemed to pass by mostly unnoticed. I’d seen the absolutely bonkers trailer, and read about the controversy regarding casting, but beyond that, I didn’t actually know what the movie was about. It turns out, this was likely by design, or at the very least not unexpected. While Gods of Egypt is a spectacle, and entertaining at times, it’s a textbook example of style over substance.
Gods of Egypt shows us a world where gods and men live side by side. Mortals Bek and Zaya (Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton) are a couple trying to make a life for themselves. We meet them on the day that the great god Osiris will be passing his crown as King of Egypt to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). This does not sit well with Osiris' brother Set (Gerard Butler). Set attacks the coronation and as a result Osiris is killed and Horus is blinded and banished. The previously free people of Egypt become slaves to their new king. Bek and Zaya see Horus as the only hope that Egypt has to be freed, and so they hatch a plan to give him back his sight so that he can help them.
What follows feels like an attempt to meld the modern superhero movie with the classic Hollywood sword-and-sandals epic. Every man is a manly man with a physique out of Men’s Fitness. Every woman is showing off as much of her ample bosom as a PG-13 rating will allow. The gods, normally human-looking, though about eight feet tall, also have the ability to transform themselves into giant Iron Man like armored creatures that resemble the pictures of Egyptian gods you may remember from history class.
If there’s a single shot from Gods of Egypt that wasn’t done in front of a green screen, though, I did not notice it. While this has the benefit of giving everything a consistent look, the fact is that it’s consistently off. The CGI just isn’t that good. Digital effects get a bad rap when compared to practical effects, and while I think a lot of that is unfair, computer graphics only work when you can’t tell they came from a computer.
While the visuals are fine whenever characters are trading one-liners, when the movement becomes more intense things begin to fall apart. The action sequences in Gods of Egypt look like they were pulled out of a video game, and not a good one. At one point, I found myself wondering if the questionable effects were done that way intentionally. They reminded me of something Ray Harryhausen might have done, and as he was doing his classic effects work during the same era of the epics Gods of Egypt was trying to ape, maybe the obviously cheesy effects were some sort of homage. I’m probably giving them too much credit.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t stuff to turn your brain off and enjoy. Gods of Egypt is gonzo, but it’s also completely committed to its gonzoness. The giant snake monsters and minotaur soldiers are so ridiculous, I couldn’t help but enjoy them.
While I’m not sure Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is going to be your next action hero megastar, he’s completely capable of leading the movie. He’s perfected smarmy-charming in his role on Game of Thrones and that, like everything else in Gods of Egypt, is amplified by an order of magnitude. Chadwick Boseman is an entertaining diversion as Thoth the god of wisdom, and Gerard Butler can chew scenery with the best of them. Brenton Thwaites doesn’t really bring anything to the table here, but he doesn’t do any real damage either.
If there’s a major problem with the cast, beyond how European the Egyptians look, it’s in the treatment of the female roles. Courtney Eaton exists solely to be a damsel in distress. Elodie Yung, as the goddess of love Hathor, is given just enough more to do that you can tell she’d be much better if the movie would let her. Both characters exist more as plot devices (and cleavage delivery vessels) than as characters. The job of the first is to send our hero on his journey. The other is there to carry the object that will set up the sequel. Box office numbers will tell us if that’s ever to happen.
I want to give Gods of Egypt credit for what it was trying to do. Everybody is so on board with this insane movie that they deserve recognition for it. In the end, there just isn’t a lot here to sink your teeth into. If this movie looks like something you would enjoy, you probably will. Just don’t expect there to be anything more there than what you see.