Movie Review: Gods of Egypt
By Ben Gruchow
March 10, 2016
Forget any chance you think Gods of Egypt might have at being some sort of stealth classic or ahead-of-its-time visionary fantasy. I was hoping for that; it's directed by Alex Proyas, who provided us with Dark City and Knowing, two great films that also seemed to be genre lightweights. But eventually, we must all forfeit some of our hopeful idealism. This is pure, pulpy, cataclysmically silly tomfoolery, a C-movie story and characters wrapped in a B-movie's emotional temperature and given an A-movie's budget. Its special effects look awfully attractive, except for the many parts where they look clunky and clumsy. The cast occupies paper-thin, wildly visual characters with what appears to be honest (or possibly drunken) relish. I try to maintain decorum in a movie theater out of respect for the patrons around me; I succeeded in maintaining that decorum most of the way through the film, and only just. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
How am I to properly review this? The proceedings take place in ancient Egypt, which is visualized at about the same level of restraint that the Luxor’s remodeling team might’ve come up with, if they’d aimed for paradise instead of an airport terminal. Egypt housed gods as well as mortals in these days, so perfect and glimmering was their land. The gods are roughly twice the size of a mortal person, but otherwise look just like them - except when they’re in need of the full range of their powers. Then they morph into metallic animalistic avatars: think a traditional mythological beast, by way of a Transformer. As gods, they possess colossal physical and mental skills; when injured, they bleed not red, but gold. This helpfully allows the filmmakers to avoid an R rating when characters lie in widening pools of their own viscera. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the god of many things in Egyptian mythology and restricted to a gift of sight here; he is preparing to take over the kingdom from his father Osiris as the movie begins. The ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of Osiris’ brother, Set (Gerard Butler); since we in the audience know the basics of Egyptian mythology, we know well before our protagonists do that this is not a good development. Indeed, Set murders Osiris in the first of many action and combat sequences; Horus attempts to avenge his father, but loses the fight and his perfect vision to Set.
With the royal family defeated, Set announces a new path to the afterlife for Egypt’s citizens: they will now need to buy their way into the afterlife. This will be done, as we see, in a phantasmagoric temple wherein the dead line up to place their riches on one of two scales; on the other scale, as we know, is the white feather. Egyptian mythology teaches us that the heart is to be placed on the opposing scale, and a virtuous person destined for the afterlife has a heart lighter than the feather. Here, riches lighter than a feather consign one to non-existence. This does not bode well when one of our characters ends up before the scales, under Set’s regime. But I’m getting ahead of myself.