Review: Gods of Egypt

The film’s virtues as throwback don’t elide the foolhardly decision to imprint an ancient mythology on a contemporary superhero framework.

Gods of Egypt
Photo: Summit Entertainment

Alex Proyas’s Gods of Egypt isn’t shy about drawing from its influences. As a swords-and-sandles epic, it occasionally makes sly reference to the work of Ray Harryhausen and gamely attempts to approximate the silly charms of classic ’60s curious like 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and The Valley of Gwangi. Proyas certainly understood the film he wanted to make: The men are chiseled and handsome, the women buxom and obedient, and scary monsters and opulent palaces are abundant throughout. The film also doesn’t lack for loincloths and magical intrigue. But whatever virtue Gods of Egypt boasts as a throwback, it doesn’t elide the filmmakers’ decision to imprint an ancient mythology on a contemporary superhero framework.

Proyas and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless strip Egyptian mythology of its historical objectivity, turning figurative gods like Set (Gerard Butler) and Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) into bratty, emotional action figures fighting for control over Egypt. Even if one ignores some of the film’s more ignobly sanitized elements, like the renaming of the god Isis to Memphis, the approach to the subject feels jejune at best.

The seven years Proyas spent away from the director’s chair are evident in the inelegant framing and clumsy stunt choreography throughout. Shots are cut so rapidly as to suggest Proyas understood he never filmed anything that was interesting enough to actually see. Nothing in Gods of Egypt brings to mind the stylistic playfulness of Dark City, the genre alchemy of The Crow, or the exhilarating narrative anarchy of the polarizing Knowing.

The story, if one can even find it beneath the expensive excesses of CGI, sees its most interesting thematic concern in a mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who doubts the nobility of the gods, in part because they look just like him—despite the fact that they’re 12 feet tall, bleed gold, and transform into humanoid beasts when its time for them to fight. His crisis is ultimately resolved, but given how fundamentally Gods of Egypt is divided between capturing the expressive imperfection of action yarns like Clash of the Titans and pandering to the dictates of Hollywood’s present-day obsession with the superhero movie, any faith in the film isn’t so easily resolved.

 Cast: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Bryan Brown, Geoffrey Rush, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman  Director: Alex Proyas  Screenwriter: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless  Distributor: Summit Entertainment  Running Time: 127 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2016  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Drew Hunt

Drew Hunt used to be an editorial assistant at the Chicago Reader. Now he's a strategy manager at Capitol Records.

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