Movie Review: Gods of Egypt
By Ben Gruchow
March 10, 2016
The audience surrogates here are Bek (Brenton Thwaites, absolutely not Egyptian) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton, slightly closer to the ballpark but still not Egyptian). They are mortals, and while Set takes over Egypt and marries Horus’ beloved Hathor (Elodie Yung), Zaya is enslaved, and eventually comes into dire circumstances. Bek tracks down Horus, and the two strike a deal: Bek helps Horus overthrow Set by killing the power of the desert, Horus helps rescue Zaya.
We thus have a plot put into motion that would not be at all out of place in the Capitol Pictures world of Hail, Caesar!: grand, capricious in mood, with acres of scenery created at vast expense primarily to ensure that there is enough of it to chew. In case the odd-coupling of Horus and Bek are in danger of getting stale, we are also offered Urshu, Set’s right-hand man and architect (Rufus Sewell, not Egyptian). He’s the one who builds the obelisk in honor of Set, which is designed to be seen from everywhere…including the Source of Creation, up in space. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let us give credit where credit is absolutely, objectively, immeasurably due: Alex Proyas does not believe in doing anything halfway, and Gods of Egypt commits to its goofiness with a tenacity and confidence that very nearly makes the film great in spite of itself. And there are visuals here that rank with the best of his work. Let’s visit the Source of Creation for a moment; this is a vessel piloted by Ra, who in Egyptian mythology is the god of the Sun. Fittingly, the Source of Creation pulls the Sun behind it on a massive chain, passing it over the land of Egypt from sunrise to sunset - and here, of course, Egypt is not a Mediterranean country bordered by other territories but a city and desert that span the totality of a flat obelisk in space.
Ra (Geoffrey Rush, not Egyptian, doesn’t care, and looking like he’s having the time of his life) has to regularly head off the malevolent advances of Apophis - represented as a serpent in Egyptian mythology and represented here as a colossal, Old God-esque carnival of smoke and huge rows of teeth. He does this by firing energy bolts from his staff into Apophis’ incorporeal form, and if Apophis isn’t defeated on one of his nightly approaches...but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s also not attempt to criticize Proyas for baring even a vestige of timidity. He knew what he was up to here. He went on record last December, stating unequivocally that this film has little to do with Egyptian mythology and it doesn’t take place in Egypt. I can believe this; all of Proyas’ stories have taken place just outside of common reality. Even Knowing, which nominally took place in a “normal” setting, ultimately revealed its stakes and groundwork to be far bigger and more ethereal than anything in the mortal realm. I can imagine the lights coming on in his eyes and mind at the pitch for this film: an adventure taking place in some ancient land that tangentially resembles Egypt, with all of the vaguely birdlike, doglike, and catlike beasts that implies, but involving supernatural deities and phenomena at war with each other. Proyas is and always has been a visualist, and this is no letdown on that front. I’ve heard and read others who compare the effects unfavorably to its kin, isolating shiny textures and evident bluescreen.