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Gods of Egypt: The Review

Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush
Plot: On his coronation, Horus (Coster-Waldau) is blinded and exiled by his murderous uncle, Set (Butler) and forced to strike a bargain with a mere mortal (Thwaites).

Gods of Egypt has some big ideas, but only a few of them actually pay off. The concept in itself intrigues anyone with a fondness of Egyptian mythology. Proyas creates a movie universe that can plausibly include and explain away several of the Egyptian trademarks. Never before have we seen a cinematic reconstruction of the Weighing of the Heart ceremony or Ra battling the terrifying Apophis. In fact, a small amount of praise should be given to Gods of Egypt for making the contents of this movie not seem as daft as it is.

The truth is that when you begin the narrative journey Proyas takes Gods of Egypt on, you begin to get excited. We don’t get too many mythology movies anymore, and even the great ones or few modern ones are more preoccupied with Greek mythology, which is easier to adapt into film. So when Proyas decides to write up a story that includes Horus’ battle for Egypt against Set, we are easily bought into the premise. However, it also means that Proyas has a rare opportunity to teach the audience something about Ancient Egypt and he seems far more preoccupied with the visuals. The most interesting bits of Gods of Egypt feel more like a painting on a canvas. Apophis’ battles feel more like a chance to get some powerfully provocative imagery into the piece (in a movie, we slightly sub-par CGI, Apophis is thankfully done right), but there is never a prolonged discussion on what Apophis is, besides something that needs to be killed. Elodie Yung’s Hathor has a bracelet that keeps her from drifting into the Underworld, which when removed gives way to some deeply disturbing visual sequences. They are breath-taking, but their addition feels like there job is to be just that: five seconds of terrifyingly chilling horror, before we get to the next story beat. You are crying out for a better explanation to what you just witnessed rather than Horus quipping “Oh yeah, that happened sometime in the past!” When you handle something as precious to some viewers as a real world mythology, you are almost obligated to hold your story to a higher level. CGI scarabs scuttle in the background, giant snakes are used as horses for Set’s assassins… yes, they look awesome and those snakes provide the movie with its best scene, but seeing as they are based on something more than a footnote in a script, they should be given more than a glorified fight scene. It gives Gods of Egypt the sense that it is only ever reaching at the film it wants to be, making even the better bits, when they finally arise, feel like an anti-climatic punch.

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The story isn’t much better. But again, its biggest frustration is that it has every chance to be. When Set, suffering little brother syndrome, kills Osiris and exiles his nephew, Horus, who was about to be crowned King of Egypt, Horus is blinded and reduced to a quivering coward in a tomb. Spurred on by his devoted girlfriend, Brenton Thwaites seeks out Horus, hoping his girlfriend’s belief that Horus will return to defeat Set’s evil rule is true. Thwaites and Coster-Waldau make for an interesting pairing on paper. Thwaites is a mere mortal, the movie hammering home that their job is to worship and serve. The movie makes clever jokes about how even the nicer Gods get totally thrown off when Thwaites refuses to fetch them a glass of water, a clever aside to social classes and the rich/poor divide. This is the kind of material that Gods of Egypt finds itself prime to exploit. There is such a divide between the Gods and humans, Gods bleeding gold and coming across as humanoid giants with unimaginable strength. But Horus finds himself needing Thwaites’ mortal, a begrudging respect burgeoning from their journey. This should be far more heart-lifting than it actually is. For a start, Thwaites is burdened with a poorly written character. He should be the most interesting, but the character of Beck, a cheeky thief who happens to find himself in the middle of this clash between Gods, is so by-the-numbers that he is impossible to like. Thwaites performance is wooden, perhaps down to poor direction, as his delivery feels like an attempt at theatre greatness. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is easier to like, seeing as he is the stronger actor. He still feels like a expert actor struggling to save face in a script full of dead lines. There are moments early on, when you feel that he is treating the role of Horus as a Shakespearean piece (as he should), but the script moves too quickly to settle on any theme or emotion. Also with the spoilt God slowly learning to do the right thing, it does feel like his role of Game of Thrones stuck on fast-forward and with the incest edited out. Surprisingly, while his performance has been canned across the board, Butler is better. Sure, he is chewing the scenery, but this is what a movie of this nature needs. If we are going to scrap the dissection of Egyptian mythology, we might as well focus on the adventure movie. Butler, at least, treats the cheese-ball dialogue as it is written and gives us a baddie worth booing at. Sadly, the dependence on CGI hurts the fight scenes when we get down to them, as well as the ability for the Gods to resurrect most of the dead characters, but at this point in a review, we are desperately looking for a light at the end of the tunnel…

Final Verdict: Even when the movie does something right, it is hard to escape the amount of missed opportunities present here.

Two Stars