Too Many Glaring Marks Hamper Gods of Egypt (not just the White Washing)
by Kristin Battestella
Thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) helps the exiled god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reclaim his Eye from the evil God of the Desert Set (Gerard Butler) in order to save his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from the underworld. Along the way, both mortals and gods face several fantastical obstacles and adventures as they seek the help of Ra (Geoffrey Rush). Unfortunately, thanks to an abundance of poor pacing and inferior special effects that can’t compensate for the muddled storytelling, pondering mythology, and misguided point of view; the whitewashing controversy from director Alex Proyas’ (The Crow) 2016 Gods of Egypt is just one of many problems.
An opening prologue and panoramic special effects are nothing but empty show when Gods of Egypt needed to start its story with either the gods themselves or the mortal quest. Instead, the omnipresent narration from our thief knows more about the gods then they do, leaving the tale padded with messy embellishments, unreliability excuses, superfluous scenes, and epic fakery. Assassination coups in front of the gasping crowd seem more like a play the gods put on for mere mortals – CGI gold birds and black jackals parkour in a reason-less fight because Gods of Egypt didn’t begin at the right point in the story and then compounds the timeline further by restarting a year later. Transparent graphics and always on the move cameras call attention to themselves – every scene is panning and sweeping with people coming or going but the visual distractions don’t disguise the muddled storytelling or the jarring, unrealistic, embarrassing, and noticeably pale casting. Poor writing from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (of Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter infamy) likewise dumbs down the mythical and over-relies on effects rather than explaining its world or developing any characters – leaving Gods of Egypt a loosely strung together montage of random cool scenes featuring a magic carpet ride spaceship, underworld deserts, serpents chases, temple gauntlets, and talking rock monsters. It takes an hour for the mortal to round up the gods for some risky mission…because they couldn’t unite and do it themselves? What should be a straightforward quest treads tires thanks to a lot of walking here or there with no idea where the inept heroes are going or why. Viewers can’t take the fantastic risks seriously amid the quips, cliches, and convenient in the nick of time actions leaving no weight or consequences. Serious deaths are short or quickly forgotten unless there’s a need for underworld special effects, which kind of copy Lord of the Rings. Are they trying to get back Horus’ Eye? Are they trying to save the gal who’s actually doing alright in the underworld? Are they trying to stop Set from being badass? Whatever the messy crusade, a literal deus ex machina from Ra leaves no point to it any of it.
Apparently, personal vengeance isn’t enough motivation for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus. After he’s usurped, he drinks over it until our thief comes along to inspire him to make jokes while running away from CGI serpents. There’s no room to breathe life into the character, and despite this apparent star vehicle, there’s more for Nikolaj fans on Game of Thrones. Gerard Butler (300) has a great introduction as Set, but when he opens his mouth that lovely Scottish lilt becomes laughably out of place. His scenes seem like they are from a different movie, and Set only interacts with everyone else in a few scenes. For supposedly being the villain who rules over all in fear, most of Set’s speeches are sarcastic quips on said badassery, and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot beyond changing what he wants and why from scene to scene. Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) is a thief but also a lover – a blasé cool cat who thinks he’s better than the gods. Bek’s narrative frame and speaking out loud when he’s alone is purely to hit the audience on the head, and it’s the wrong perspective on the story for us to follow him. Bek’s stealing the Eye of Horus for his dead babe is a more important story than the vengeful gods? Really? This entire storyline could have been red penciled to strengthen the core, for rather than any god realizing his humanity redemption arc, the story unbelievably bends to suit Bek’s good at everything Mary Sue. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) as Thoth – the God of Wisdom who’s more camp like Vanity Smurf rather than clever – appears once an hour in Gods of Egypt to kneel to the white people and joke about liking big butts and he cannot lie. Yes, seriously. Horus’ lover Hathor is played by Elodie Young (Daredevil), and she looks too young indeed as she easily passes between the gods to help or hinder when convenient. Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) likewise wears inaccurate but skin bearing costumes as the sacrificial girlfriend used for man pain, and Bek isn’t even that broken up over her because he can talk to her in the underworld and really just wants to trick the gods into bringing her back. Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde) is here too as Set’s creeper architect, and Geoffrey Rush’s (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Ra is some kind of Lear meets Gandalf because the all seeing, all knowing ruler of all Egypt above and below is an old, bald, white guy. Gods of Egypt has a large and big name ensemble that deserved more but unfortunately, everyone here is hopelessly out of place.
Gods of Egypt has epic music, fiery motifs, giant gods, and traditional Egyptian iconography. The picture is bright and colorful with golden palaces and steamy reds. Unfortunately, all the sweeping comes in wide pans and distance shots. The chariot escapes, fatal arrows, fake jungles, and slow motion is downright laughable, and Gods of Egypt will look very, very bad within five years thanks to the poor graphics. It’s obvious these visuals, regal dangers, and any sexiness are toned down for mainstream appeal, but the overdone CGI close-ups make it seem as if all the people were filmed at different times and then inserted into the frame together. Slowed panoramas show one good action move, but then the rest of the fight choreography is a whole lot of nothing leaps or parry embellishments. People fly through the air or slam against the walls as the camera follows their swoops up, down, or sideways, and it all makes Gods of Egypt look too fake and fantastic – doubly so when again considering how the point of view unevenly or conveniently goes back and forth between mortals experiencing the fantastic and gods coming down from high. The eponymous folks die pretty darn easy and the Mary Sue nobodies achieve some really unbelievable feats! If every slow motion moment spectacle was cut from Gods of Egypt, you’d save fifteen minutes, no lie, as the continued over-reliance on special effects borders on a partially animated feature culminating in big battles and more slow motion falling without the people or gods having learned a thing. I want to skip over all the weak incidental CGI transitions, which can’t build a world better than the simplicity of courtly strife nor compensate for the poor storytelling.
Had Gods of Egypt been firm in its own myth and magic and took a stance on whether this was going to be about gods or men, it might have been really cool. Instead, the picture is presented from the wrong perspective at the wrong point in the story and doesn’t put on the right point of view thanks to graphics being more important than the personal quest making it impossible to suspend viewer belief. Gods of Egypt’s two hours plus never develops the world into one deserving of that time and remains ridiculously overlong for a thrill ride action adventure. Embarrassingly white, modern, and out of place people contribute to the glaring storytelling problems. Rather than any rewrite clarification on its mythology or a more multi-ethnic cast, Gods of Egypt underestimates our knowledge of omnipresent Egyptian lore with its superficial spectacle bang for its blockbuster buck, expecting viewers to go along with the poor slight of hand when 300 (which Hollywood is apparently still trying to recreate) and Stargate did it better. Unfortunately, Gods of Egypt is painfully unaware that the audience won’t sit still for frustratingly bad visuals, jarring whitewashing, noticeable movie machinations, and no clear story.