A mark of a good movie is one that shines either without - or even despite - huge visual flairs, pomp and circumstance, and everything else besides – a movie that has genuine heart, genuine appeal, and provides a thought-provoking narrative along with a clear idea as to what the director and screenwriters were looking for. The best original cinema knows that the delivery of a great film is in its characters, in its script, and in the challenges it provides to its audience. Gods of Egypt is not amongst the best of original cinema. Despite it neither being an adaptation, a sequel nor a reboot of any kind, it is possibly one of the most unoriginal, formulaic and paper-thin movie experiences I’ve ever thrown myself into, along with being one of the most unentertaining.
Gods of Egypt surrounds just that – Egyptian Gods – as there is a fallout following the murder of Egypt’s ruling Osiris by his brother – the power-hungry Gerard Butler, portraying Set. Set’s other brother, Horus (Coster-Waldau), finds himself blind and exiled by the murderous new ruler, who sets about making drastic changes to the land before him. In the midst of all this is the lowly mortal, Bek (Thwaites), who finds himself pulled into a struggle between duelling brother Gods and a fight for humanity itself. What transpires is a journey spanning ancient lands, battles with mythical beasts and the road to a showdown between the two duelling Gods.
The first thing people will assume about Gods is that it ‘looks good’, at least based upon the trailer – and while this may be considered a plus that the movie has to offer, the visuals are bizarrely sub-par. While there are grandiose scenes and gigantic monsters for all to see, none of them have much of a ‘wow’ factor. Many of them feel dated, with animation during fight scenes and monster battles feeling as if they would better belong in The Mummy movies of the last decade or so. The colours are a wishy-washy orange and yellow, and with this, while the designs are fairly palatable – in terms of cast dress, sets and character designs – it all feels rather cheap, as if it needed one last polish before being sent to distribution. There’s a hammy, tacky feel to the visual aspect – and, sadly, this is easily the best aspect of the movie as a whole, and is where my mark goes to.
Gods of Egypt is a slog. It is a two-hour trudge through excruciating dialogue, predictable story twists, clichéd challenges, horribly awkward choreography, sledgehammer exposition, uninteresting characters, bored and even sometimes awkward acting and, perhaps crucially of all, a distinct lack of audience appeal. Who is Gods of Egypt for? In different hands, under different writers and a tighter direction, it could have been fantastic. It could have offered a little self-awareness, it could have given us tortured and interesting characters, and even a few twists and turns that took us away from the logical and expected conclusion. Instead, we are brought an ultimately rather amateurish and extremely lacklustre production that fails to get going even in the final scenes. It’s a shame, as – try as I might – I truly wanted to enjoy this movie.
Gods of Egypt - Official Trailer (Lionsgate Movies)
Gods benefits from, on paper, a good cast – Butler has been known to turn in good performances – but here, he chunters along with seemingly little passion or effort. Rush, too, plays a set piece with what seems to be little interest – Coster-Waldau, who many will know better as Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister, offers his best, and perhaps gives the movie what little charm it has, but still pulls off as flat – based purely upon the script he is working with. Comparing his scenes in Gods with his work on HBO’s Thrones provides stark difference (no pun intended). Young and Eaton play undeserved second fiddle to the male actors of the piece, while Thwaites – the supposed hero of the piece – consistently struggles with tone and delivery. While the lines he is handed aren’t great to begin with, he, sadly, does not help deliver a great movie.
Crucially, and devastatingly, we don’t care about these characters. We’re spoon-fed every last piece of detail in the dialogue. There is barely a line that isn’t either heavy-handed exposition, a clumsy observation, or clichéd genre babble. These characters are flat and lifeless – they are all the exact type of characters we’ve seen a thousand times – earnest and determined, seemingly passionate and driven – and that’s it. They only ever seem to care about what’s happening in the here and now. While, granted, things happen to them, there’s a struggle and a resolution, what you see is strictly what you get. We’re told who is ‘good’, who is ‘bad’, and that’s more or less the recipe. It is such flat characterisation that contributes to one of the most plodding and uninspiring screenplays I have ever had to sit through.
The story is over before it begins – it is painfully predictable, and much of the action offers around 90 minutes of filler before it reaches the end point that the audience had worked out fifteen minutes in. There is little in the way of surprise. There are attempts to thrill and amaze with visual effects but with painful green screen and aforementioned dated effects, this is a movie that smacks of a production that has had more money pumped into it than heart or purpose. It is a very poor execution of what could have been a great idea that is painted over with lashes of expensive imagery and glamour that give it a rather tacky execution, and one that feels poorly handled. It is certainly a case of all style, no substance. All the while, it is a movie that seems exceptionally pleased with itself, not once showing any kind of awareness or genre creativity. It is as by-the-numbers as you can get – if Warcraft received flack for its characterisation problems and style over substance execution (much of which I believe was somewhat unfounded), Gods needs to receive ten times as much. This is a movie that is, sadly, instantly forgettable – and for a supposed epic dealing with duelling Gods, grand battles and voyages into the lore of Ancient Egypt, it is stunning that it achieves such a nadir. Ray Harryhausen handled ancient mythology far better decades ago, and at a fraction of the budget thrown at Gods.
Gods of Egypt came under fire upon its initial release in the US due to the majority white casting of a movie set in ancient Africa – and it is a movie that has barely recouped $2 million over its expansive $140 million budget, making it a relative box office whimper despite having garnered a profit. Even despite such press, Gods is an incredible achievement in that it is consistently dull, tackily presented, predictably written, awkwardly delivered and overly long – and while there were clearly good intentions in its design, and pacing could have been further neglected, this is simply not enough to allow it to become more than simply one of the worst movies that 2016 will have to offer. At even halfway through the year, I am confident that this will be the case. Many detractors are calling the movie ‘so bad, it’s good’ – but take it from me, it really isn’t.