Recommendation: Gods of Egypt

Basically, Gods of Egypt has two speeds: Generic and Forgettable, and Actually Kinda Cool.

A theatrical poster for the film "Gods of Egypt."
Nothing says “Egypt” like… melting magic fighting robots?
Gods of Egypt: Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures. via IMDB.

I don’t want to get sidetracked writing a whole big essay about either the controversy around Gods of Egypt itself or the issues with determining the racial identity of the Ancient Egyptians (or the fact that the modern notion of “race” can’t even really be applied to the Ancient Egyptians).

For what it’s worth, Ancient Egyptian art depicts the people of Ancient Egypt looking like this:

An Ancient Egyptian wall painting depicting a man, woman, and priest.
Woman Man and Young Priest. Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève. Image via Wikimedia. Public Domain.

This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1926, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.

Men tend to have reddish skin representing that they get tanned working outside. Women have paler, yellowish skin, representing that they stay pale by staying indoors. It’s all very stylised and abstract, but it’s probably a safe bet that real Ancient Egyptians didn’t look Danish, Scottish, or Australian

The short version: the movie has no Egyptian actors, the major characters are overwhelming white and talking with British accents, the non-white characters are all in minor or not even particularly good roles, and since the god characters are depicted as gigantic, most of the non-white characters are literally small enough for the white characters to step on.

I think (hope?) that it’s just trying to represent an actual element of Ancient Egyptian art (that the gods and important, powerful humans are bigger than everyone else), but the general clumsiness and racial aspect of it makes it pretty uncomfortable all around.

Yeah.

It’s not great. And not helped by the fact that the people involved with the movie reacted to the controversy in the worst, most petulant way possible.

Suffice it to say that the controversy is probably the most memorable part of the movie and a pretty keen demonstration that all publicity is not, in fact, good publicity. Despite the controversy, the movie flopped hard.

A man about to belly-flop in the water.
Like, even harder than this dude is about to…
Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com

Now, this is either going to be a deal-breaker for you, or it isn’t.

If you absolutely, positively want nothing to do with Gods of Egypt, feel free to stop reading now. You don’t need me to tell you how to feel. I trust you to make up your own mind about it.

But if you can get past the controversy, there is an enjoyable(ly bad) movie buried underneath all the issues.

The Pyramids.
Sort of like how most major archaeological finds in Egypt spent a couple thousand years actually buried.
Photo by David McEachan on Pexels.com

Ultimately, it’s no worse than any other stylish, but ultimately soulless big budget movie aiming for epic grandeur.

While inspired by one of the most famous stories in Egyptian mythology and getting at least enough of the broad strokes right to be recognisable, the plot is pretty standard “evil god wants to take over the world” stuff. Worth noting perhaps, that in Egyptian mythology set is not, in fact, evil.

As poorly as it’s executed, the Egyptian mythology setting is at least novel enough to make the whole exercise less generic and fairly stylish, if nothing else. At least in theory…

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in "Gods of Egypt", in a generic-looking scene.
If I wasn’t devoting an entire post to this movie, would you know what movie this shot is from?
Gods of Egypt: Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures.

The CGI isn’t great, but the art direction is. Basically, it’s the cinematic version of the Xenoblade Problem.

The setting is Ancient Egypt embiggened to an epic, larger-than-life, gold-plated scale. The god characters have super-powered armoured, transforming superhero-esque forms (the melting robots in the poster at the beginning of this post; they look better on screen) that reflect the Ancient Egyptian iconoraphy: Horus turns into a shiny gold falcon, Set turns into an evil and impressive… whatever it is that Set is (possibly a fish).

And the depiction of Ra‘s defence of the solar barque against Apep is really cool and suitably conveys the high-stakes, fate-of-the-world-in-the-balance aspect of the fight between Ra and Apep.

Gerard Butler as Set is probably the best part of the movie. He has the right amount of bombastic swagger to excel as an evil god, though he is pretty hard to buy as an Egyptian god.

Basically, Gods of Egypt has two speeds: Generic and Forgettable, and Actually Kinda Cool.

A fight scene from "Gods of Egypt/"
Figure 1: The latter. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough of it.
Gods of Egypt: Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures.

Casting controversy aside, Gods of Egypt‘s biggest problem is that it’s not dumb enough.

A movie about gods fighting to determine the fate of the world shouldn’t be this boring. A movie with such a larger-than-life premise and characters shouldn’t be wasting time telling a down-to-earth, emotional, introspective character-driven story.

Several people with their arms up looking towards the sunrise.
Figure 2: Humans, aka the wrong choice on which to base a movie about a war between gods.
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

For one thing, the god characters don’t benefit from being humanised, and we have no reason to care about the human characters, so they can’t carry the movie on their own.

It should have leaned in fully to the spectacle and ridiculousness. It should have bright lights and big noises and, hey, there are enough cool creatures and monsters in Egyptian in mythology that there could have been plenty of things for Horus to fight.

A bad movie with cool action scenes is better than a movie that’s mediocre in all regards.

Gods of Egypt should have just been two hours of Set badassfully trying to take over the world while Horus badassfully punches his way through Set’s minions before the inevitable climactic melting robot fight showdown.

The same theatrical poster for the film "Gods of Egypt."
Seriously. What is that liquid?
Why are they melting?
Gods of Egypt: Summit Entertainment and Thunder Road Pictures. via IMDB.

There are flashes that Gods of Egypt could have been awesome when it’s in Actually Kinda Cool mode. And it’s actually kind of impressive (granted, in the worst possible way) that they thought up these action scenes and decided not to run with them.

Man. That came out a lot meaner than I wanted…

Look, I’m still going to count this a recommendation.

Gods of Egypt isn’t terrible, just disappointing. Approached with the right mindset and maybe a couple friends (COVID protocols permitting, of course), there might just be enough to salvage a mostly-entertaining couple hours.

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