Directed by Alex Proyas
Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless
Starring Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, Elodie Young, Rufus Sewell, Courtney Eaton, and Bryan Brown
Runtime 127 minutes
There is an easy bandwagon to jump on when criticizing this movie, and that is to call out the lack of diversity in the cast and state that Egyptians, especially when this film is set, were black people. Being set somewhere around maybe 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, that’s just what they looked like and no fair skinned people were around. So having the principle cast be white (except Chadwick Boseman, who plays a god) and have all the people of color be servants and slaves (though in fairness, at one point in the film all the non-gods were slaves, white and non-white). I even referred to the film as White People in Egypt when the trailer first hit. That’s the easy bandwagon and its best to get it out of the way at the start, because that is surprisingly not the biggest problem with the film. If that were it and the movie turned out to be good despite its lack of diversity, then it would still need to be mentioned as the systemic and traditional problem that it has been since the dawn of movies. However, the casting of white people where there would not have been any is the least of the problems this film has, and there are many.
The story, what there is of one, is that the gods of Egypt live amongst the humans because Egypt is a paradise on Earth and where better for gods to live? They rule over the people, Osiris (Bryan Brown) rules over the plush areas bordering the Nile and Set (Gerard Butler) rules over the desert. They are children both of Ra (Geoffrey Rush), the god of the sun who stays in space battling some sort of space demon that wants to eat the Nile and destroy life or something. Osiris decides he is going to pass his throne to Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is a spoiled and irresponsible man who drinks and parties his life away. On coronation day, Set decides this is the time to run up and kill Osiris and take control of all of Egypt for himself and succeeds after besting Horus and taking out his all-seeing eyes. Horus retreats, blind and dejected.
Set enslaves all of the mortals and starts a war with the gods who oppose him. Of these mortals, we are introduced early on to Bek (Brenton Thwaites) a pretty young thief who is in love with Zaya (Courtney Eaton), a pretty young…well, she becomes a sort of secretary to the master builder Urshu (Rufus Sewell, who obviously did this based on prior association with Proyas). Zaya believes in Horus and that he can save them from Set if he had his eyes. She steals the plans to the vault where they are kept and Bek steals the one that’s there and returns it to Horus, starting an adventure to get back the throne from Set and save Zaya from the afterlife when she is killed while attempting to escape from Urshu.
It gets more convoluted from there, but that’s kind of the name of the game for poorly written fantasy epics. The scribes behind this film, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (though I read his name in the credits as Shapeless, which is what this film is), are also the pens behind Dracula Untold and The Last Witchhunter, so there wasn’t much hope to start with. They open with narration that is quickly dropped, explain some things far too much while leaving other perplexing things completely unexplained. None of their characters are realized beyond one or two personality points, leaving everyone flat as a board. There is no emotional heft to anything and the only reason to feel bad that Zaya dies is that she’s attractive, not because her character means anything to you. People pop in and out, gods that are barely explained are killed, a rebel faction of gods are fighting Set, but you never get to see their battles except their last one, everything is alluded to without being shown. Except all the parts that are usually cut out because they’re boring. Those parts are kept in, possibly under the strange delusion that they help build character. They don’t. All the quiet parts do is grind the movie down to a halt and we are left to sit there watching shallow characters talk about things in vague terms and come to vaguer answers. Some may cite the humor as a saving grace. That would be true if more than a couple of jokes actually work, but most fall like lead balloons filled with rocks.
Many will lay blame for how bad this film is at director Proyas’ feet, and that is unfair. You can’t make a good movie from a bad script, and he had a bad script to work with. That being said, he did make some critical missteps that didn’t do the film any favors. First and foremost, he chose to shoot largely on a soundstage in front of green screen and didn’t hire a competent visual effects house to augment live footage with the CGI or worse yet, competently blend the footage with the gods (who are taller than the humans) with the scenes with the humans, making it all look very obviously an effect. In some films, where budget is a concern, this kind of thing can be overlooked but when the budget of a film is $140 million, you expect it to look at least well put-together. Peter Jackson managed to get the height differences blended properly in The Hobbit films using the same techniques Proyas did, so it is possible if you care about it.
That is something else. Proyas didn’t seem to be engaged in the making of this film. He’s defending it online, eviscerating critics who don’t like it, but the truth is that he was a hired gun brought on to hopefully infuse this limp screenplay with some imagination and he was given the budget to do it and he failed. His pacing is off, his characters are driftwood and his visuals are garbage.
Gods of Egypt isn’t just a waste of your time, should you choose to watch it at any point either in theaters or streaming or however. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort that made the film. This could have been an entertaining, if brainless, film if there was at least some care put into it and at least one character to latch on to. What it ended up being is a boring, languid slog that isn’t even entertaining to look at, let alone listen to. So no, white-washing isn’t the reason this film will likely do poorly, the fact that it stinks is.