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‘Gods of Egypt’ (2016) Review

‘Gods of Egypt’ (2016) Review


Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler


In a time when the gods lived among the men they created, Set, the lord of darkness, claims the throne of Egypt from his brother and ends a thousand years of peace, plunging the land and its people into strife until a young mortal thief takes up the cause to free his captured lover and end the reign of terror in Gods of Egypt, the latest from director Alex Proyas.

It has to be said from the start that no one, not one person, involved in the making of Gods of Egypt had to believe they were doing anything but making a silly fantasy action movie meant only to be driven by big special effects and over-the-top characters. If it weren’t for the names in the credits, and the massive budget the studio pumped into it, this might be considered a fun B-film to rent on a rainy weekend.

On the day when Osiris (Bryan Brown) plans to pass his crown as king to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), his brother Set (Gerard Butler) arrives after a three-days journey from the desert and with a massive army at his side usurps the throne by killing Osiris and blinding his nephew. In the crowd, watching the events unfold is Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a rebellious and lucrative thief whose beautiful girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton), a short time later, is killed by a subject of Set when her employer realizes she has given Bek floor plans to Set’s immense treasury. Bek has stolen back one of Horus’ eyes and with it, pleads for Horus to help him in exchange for the eye. Zaya is caught between the living and the dead, and it is said that only the king can bring one back, but time is a factor. In only a few days, she’ll be gone forever. To become king, Horus must once again face Set and take back what is rightfully his. 

Directed by Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow), Gods of Egypt is an interesting film to say the least. On one hand it is a massive, epic tale of grand adventure, set in a time long lost to lore, with some often impressive special effects, a solid cast, and imaginative production design. On the other, it’s a bewildering exercise in excess with an almost aggressive determination to be corny, as if in homage to the once ubiquitous direct-to-video movies populating discount store bins. There is a certain low-quality charm to it even though its decidedly big budget, with several moments that seem to be competing for the Sharknado-esque trend in absurdity. One look at Butler riding a flying chariot driven by two horse-sized, shiny green Egyptian Scarab beetles is all it takes to let go of the ‘are you kidding me?‘ welling up in your throat and just grin with a kind of ‘oh, okay, I get it‘ resolve.

As has been much discussed, the cast is the real issue, it being nearly all white (not to mention English speaking). Proyas and others have already addressed the decisions behind the hiring of the cast and yet it still feels a bit uncomfortable. That said, dealing with what is on screen, the actors do a good job. What’s more, and maybe rightfully so as many are portraying gods, they are all finely tuned, shimmering bodies with lots of pecs and ample bosoms on display. Butler is the most charged, as always, gleefully embracing the goofiness, seemingly, happily, aware that every shouted word he lets fly harkens back to his own King Leonidas in Zach Snyder‘s 300.  Coster-Waldau is effective and I liked Rufus Sewell (who worked with Proyas in Dark City) as the chief architect Urshu, chewing up his scenes with some good sneering fun. Geoffery Rush shows up playing Ra the Sun god and while the character is one of the more interesting, and his battle with the planet-sized black smoke monster who every day attacks and Ra defends, is one that could have been the basis for an entire film, Rush is not compelling and the part is unmemorable. Sadly, the women are underused and over-exposed, though Eaton is quite good and Elodie Yung as Hathor truly stand outs in her brief moments.

Gods of Egypt fails because it stays safe, even when it’s going big. Believing that audiences only go to the theater to see action, the film spends far, far too much time with people and gods simply fighting. At one point, two gods begin their battle in human form then morph to their supernatural deity forms and fly up above the fearful crowds and them come back and finish it back as men and you can’t help but wonder why they just didn’t start off with the deity stuff first. This is a question that comes up more than once. While the dialog is delivered with gusto, the action is relentless and grows tiresome, feeling more like lazy solutions to problems rather than clever writing, with giant creatures and destruction en masse.

Taking Gods of Egypt for what it is, there is some fun to be had, but it’s so eager to check off the tropes of the genre that it fails to innovate. Considering the creative forces behind the films, that’s what disappoints most.