Directed by Alex Proyas
Written by Matt Sazama & Buck Sharpless
The historical fantasy genre has gained some traction over the last decade, particularly with films like Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, and even something like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (even though the last is based on a video game). These films have a certain attraction for their grotesque twistings of history into overblown, CGI riddled fantasy dramas which are often bigger and bolder than much of the action/adventure genre these days. The problem? Well, for the most part they are either overly dramatic, over played, or overly dependent upon nauseatingly bold, big and headache inducing CGI and 3D gimmicks. At their core, the worlds being built are intriguing, much like a video game in which nearly any tale may be told. Gods of Egypt is the latest attempt to show that a movie like this doesn’t have to feel like a video game, or be unimaginative when it comes to the potential of a story set in its world.
The film, directed by Alex Proyas, whose Dark City, I, Robot, and Knowing are all intriguing entries into the sci-fi world, is a promising mix of the science fiction Proyas has shown an aptitude for, and the sprawling, sweeping epic landscape of ancient Egypt. Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is set to inherit the fertile Nile kingdom of Egypt from his father, but on his coronation day, his jealous uncle Set (Gerard Butler) returns from the desert, his kingdom, to usurp the power instead, tearing out Horus’ powerful eyes. In an attempt to aid Horus, the moral Bek (Brenton Thwaites) steals back one of his eyes from Set’s vault, but when his love, Zaya (Courtney Eaton) is killed in the process, Bek strikes a deal with the god Horus to bring his love back from the dead. In return, Bek will help Horus defeat his evil uncle Set and return Egypt to peace and prosperity.
What sets Gods of Egypt apart from most films of its kind is the sheer proficiency of the visual effects, which are quite well done, providing a sleek, clean and rather eye-popping canvas on which to unravel the narrative. Not to be mistaken, the film was almost assuredly shot in front of blue and green screens for its entirety, but that does not detract from the work of the visual effects artists in creating a lush, beautiful world in which to stage this fantasy story. For this purpose, the film succeeds in being a visual delight. However, where the film fails to succeed is its imagination of narrative, which seems to play it rather safe and predictable instead of reaching for something more interesting given the fascinating dichotomy of the gods depicted and the impossible feats accomplished by the mortal Bek.
For my money, the moments that were most exciting for an adventure like this were when Bek was doing something incredible, like stealing Horus’ eye from Set’s vault. These set pieces, where the human’s strengths are highlighted, ground the film in a sense that spending time with powerful gods fighting tirelessly simply cannot. These battles between gods insert cool details into the world, informing on their powers and abilities, but after a while, as Set goes around rounding up all the powers he can, it simply gets old. And eventually the movie gets to a place about midway through when the second half of the movie will unfold just as you expect it might. The narrative failure to insert anything new or unexpected onto this marvelous canvas is the film’s greatest detriment to itself.
There are ruminations on love, honor and decency, and concepts of sympathetic deities to conflict with gods whose hunger for power seems unquenchable, but these things are so neatly packaged as to nearly remove me entirely from interest in the story unfolding. I found myself sitting back and enjoying the environment of the film, but not caring a lick about what was actually happening. The landscape exists for an exciting and accomplished action/adventure film, but as the canvas is wasted with a picture we’ve seen so many times, and without any dedication to innovative or even exciting action set pieces, save a few exceptions, Gods of Egypt simply becomes forgettable by the time the end credits roll.