The things parents do for their children.
When I first saw the trailer for Gods of Egypt, I thought to myself that the film looked like a total disaster. My eldest son, however, also saw the trailer, and he started obsessing over it because of all the crazy monsters the film seemed to feature.
And so after he finally proved himself last night by accumulating 20 good-boy stickers, I made good on my promise to take him to see the movie today.
You know what? I didn’t think it was that bad. At least my four-year-old still thinks it’s the best thing ever.
The story is taken from Egyptian mythology and imagines a flat world in which the gods live among the humans (they’re just bigger — like Yao Ming height — and can have superpowers such as morphing into powerful creatures with metal armour for some reason). I know how it sounds, but stay with me here.
Angry god Set (Gerard Butler doing his best bad King Leonidas impersonation), is pissed off that his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) is turning the throne over to son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and decides to take the crown by force, stealing something valuable from poor Horus in the process (yes, I also thought it was weird that Butler plays Coster-Waldau’s uncle). And the only person who can return the stolen item to Horus is a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who happens to have a hot young girlfriend name Zaya (Courtney Eaton). Cue the adventure music.
Gods of Egypt has been more or less universally panned by critics, with a score of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and 23% on Metacritic. Yes, it features copious amounts of CGI and some very fantastical character/monster designs. And yes, it is silly and campy and conventional in terms of plot. Having said that, I agree with Aussie director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I Robot, Knowing) in his scathing Facebook retort that audiences should see it for themselves and not write it off just because of what some critics are saying (I think that goes for all films). I think it’s unfortunate that there’s now a sort of peer pressure to agree with critics and it’s become “cool” to trash a film even when you haven’t seen it.
That applies especially in this case because, if you’ve seen the posters and/or the trailer, you should know what you’re in for: a whimsical adventure that doesn’t take itself seriously; a popcorn action flick that knows what it is trying to be; a CGI fest with lots of preposterous action, one-liners and corniness. And as great men once said: not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you like this kind of really far-fetched fantasy world stuff with magical monsters and talismans and all that crap, Gods of Egypt could be right up your alley.
That said, Gods of Egypt wasn’t really up my alley. I said it wasn’t that bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m probably more predisposed to enjoy this movie than others because I do like stories based on ancient mythology. I’m one of the only people I know who liked Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans. However, Gods of Egypt isn’t just a Titans clone wrapped around in Egyptian mythology instead of Greek — it’s a completely different type of film. It’s much less grounded plot-wise and a lot more vibrant and colourful visually. It’s even more reliant on CGI and impossible feats to tell its story. The comparison is akin to the contrast between The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure.
So theoretically, Gods of Egypt is a film that can be enjoyed, whitewashed casting notwithstanding. Admittedly, I had fun with the premise and thought some of the adventure sequences and fight scenes were executed quite well, making good use of terrain and cool creature designs to generate excitement and cheap thrills. It wasn’t as funny as I hoped it would be, though there are a few good one-liners in there. I wasn’t captivated, but I wasn’t bored either.
As it turned out, my problems with the movie are far more fundamental. The script is clunky as, with a storyline that jumps all over the place without ever getting a good grasp on the narrative thread. As simple as the story is supposed to be, it feels convoluted and filled with exposition (especially in the dialogue), though the biggest flaw is all the contrivances that are squeezed in to make the plot work. I remember multiple instances where I told myself, “Well that’s convenient!”
The other Achilles heel of the film is the special effects. Due to the kind of bright, clear look that Proyas was aiming for (as opposed to dark and gritty, which would have made it easier to hide the CGI), everything in the movie looks rather fake. The shots of the city from afar look obviously animated, and the size difference between the humans and the gods feels much more awkward than it did (for elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc) in The Lord of the Rings. And those movies were was made more than a decade ago. The worst still has to be the metallic transformations of the gods, which look like they were taken straight out of a PS2 video game. All these flaws are accentuated on the big screen, and it’s hard to focus on the story and characters when you’re constantly distracted by how fake it looks.
Taking all this into account, it’s amazing that the performances aren’t horrible. Considering they must have been acting against green screens and inanimate objects most of the time, everyone on the cast gives it their best shot. Brenton Thwaites has a terrible wig on his head, but he does what he needs to do as the stereotypical humble human hero who accomplishes miraculous things. The same goes for Coster-Waldau, who channels “good” Jamie Lannister for the most part, as well as Butler, who tries to add some more layers to his otherwise conventional villain. It was good to see Elodie Yung (the new Elektra on Netflix’s Daredevil) show off her acting range as goddess Hathor, and Aussie starlet Courtney Eaton (last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road) serves her purpose as the love interest and cleavage supplier. The only weak link in my opinion was Chadwick Boseman, the future Black Panther, who seems to be exerting most of his effort on his British accent. Amazingly, the great Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Sun God Ra, manages to deliver his role with a completely straight face, when any other great actor probably would have given us yet another Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending.
Speaking of which, I’ve heard some label Gods of Egypt as this year’s Jupiter Ascending in that it’s a crazy mess of an action flick overwhelmed by CGI and flopped badly against a massive budget. I think it’s an apt analogy, though I was also one of those people who didn’t think Jupiter Ascending wasn’t as atrocious as critics made it out to be. Both are ambitious failures, but I applaud Proyas for having the balls to at least go for it and try something different. I like the vision he had for the film, but I think he just went a little (or a lot) overboard. A tighter script with more humour, less reliance on CGI, and none of that metallic monsters business, and Gods of Egypt might have been pretty good. Sadly, it will end up being remembered for all the wrong reasons, much like Clash and Wrath of the Titans, though that’s arguably still better than being completely forgotten, like Immortals (remember the Greek mythology film with Henry Cavill and Freida Pinto?).
As we stepped out of the cinema, my son started asking me about when they’re going to make a sequel to Gods of Egypt. He really enjoyed it that much. With a dumbfounding budget of US$140 million (plus much more on marketing) and current box office returns of just US$43 million, it breaks my heart to have to tell him that it’s probably not going to happen.
2.5 stars out of 5