Gods of Egypt Review
Clash of the Gods
The myths of the ancient world have always proved popular when it comes to fantasy films but for every Jason and the Argonauts we get a Gods of Egypt.On paper, at least the idea of using the myths of ancient Egypt as a basis for a series of fantasy films must have seemed like a good one. The Egyptian myths include many fascinating and inventive characters, creatures and events, the majority of which will be unfamiliar to cinema audiences. Throw in a budget of $140 million, a director with a decent track record in effects films and a fun cast and you've got yourself a hit right? Wrong, what you actually end up with is a soulless and largely joyless CGI-fest that features Gerard Butler doing this best Brian Blessed impression. Butler really needs to get himself a new agent, has he even made a decent film since 300?As for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, well after this attempt to break into big-budget fantasy films, he'll be running back to the set of Game of Thrones, no doubt pleased to be involved in a fantasy series that actually knows what it's doing. The film includes plenty of other actors that should really know better, with both Bryan Brown and Geoffrey Rush trying to keep a straight face as they play literal interpretations of Egyptian gods. A quick look at that list of names will identify one of the big problems with this film, a distinct lack of any actual Egyptians being cast in Gods of Egypt; a fact for which the film was openly criticised before it had even completed principal photography.
In fairness, Gods of Egypt was actually shot in Australia, which explains the presence of a large number of well-know Aussie actors. The producers received some hefty tax-breaks to shoot there and the Australian desert was considered a safer location than the Sahara. There is even an argument that since the gods themselves aren't human, are nine feet tall and morph into giant armoured animals, then they can be played by anyone. However, all the mortals are supposedly meant to be Egyptians, so you can see why some groups would take offence at a sea of white faces. Exodus: Gods and Kings was rightly criticised for exactly the same kind of caucasian-centric casting and both the director and producers of Gods of Egypt apologised publicly. Of course some culturally insensitive casting could be forgiven if the film was any good but sadly it also fails to deliver in that department.
The film centres on the war between the Egyptian gods Horus (Coster-Waldau) and Set (Butler), which theoretically provides the filmmakers with plenty of fantasy characters and creatures with which to entertain their audience. The film uses the human character of Bek (played by Brenton Thwaites, another Aussie actor who was last seen in Oculus) as our guide through this strange and unfamiliar landscape. The rest of the cast includes Rufus Sewell (Dark City) as another mortal called Urshu, Elodie Young (who is now Elecktra in Marvel's Daredevil) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War). The latter two are also playing gods but Boseman's casting feels as though he was chosen as a token ethnic, rather than based on his undeniable talent as an actor, a fact that wasn't lost on him either.
The film's biggest failing is that it lacks any charm, an essential ingredient for any fantasy
The problem with Gods of Egypt lies in script that wants to be fun and light-hearted but fails; primarily because it's missing the key ingredient in any fantasy film - a degree of charm. You only have to watch Jason and the Argonauts or the original Clash of the Titans, both of which presented Greek myths in a literal manner, to see how a likeable charm can overcome poor acting and a limited budget. Conversely, Gods of Egypt uses slick effects and a big budget to overcome clumsy writing and a complete lack of soul, which is a shame because the idea of gods riding giant fire-breathing cobras sounds cool!
Gods of Egypt is directed by Alex Proyas who, unlike just about everyone else involved in this film, was actually born in Egypt to Greek parents, although he grew up in Australia. Proyas hasn't made a film since the underrated Knowing back in 2009 but his other films include The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot; so he's certainly familiar with fantasy and action. The film doesn't skimp on the production design and effects, either, in fact it's awash with exotic sets and unconvincing CGI. So much so that the film starts to look more like a video game than a movie, with even the human actors appearing almost unreal at times.
The producers were clearly aiming to build a new franchise with this film, which seems to be the ambition of every studio these days, so much so that films like this often feel as though they are the first act in something larger. However, after already bombing in the States, it's safe to say that we won't be seeing any more adventures in Ancient Egypt. Loud, bombastic and garish with a soundtrack that is turned up to eleven, Gods of Egypt is the kind of dull and soulless CGI-fest that passes for entertainment these days and is a valuable reminder that a decent script, some likeable characters and a degree of charm can go much further than a pyramid-load of gold.
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