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Friday, February 26, 2016

Movie Review: 'Gods of Egypt'

Gods of Egypt deftly builds up its universe, while its horrible CGI and cheap laughs burn it all down.

Review by Matt Cummings

As we prepare for the imminent release of the Egyptian fantasy Gods of Egypt, it's drawing the kind of attention that I'm sure it would rather not. Sure to be compared to last year's disastrous 2015 Jupiter Ascending, Gods builds an impressive universe with a good (but white-washed) cast, while wasting its capital with cheap storytelling and terrible special effects. The result makes Jupiter look like the next Harry Potter.

Set in the period of the great period of Egyptian history when gods were said to walk among the people, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is nearly crowned king by his father Osiris (Bryan Brown) when Horus' nephew Set (Gerard Butler) steps in to challenge the throne. Unfortunately, Set gets the better of Horus, killing Osiris and plunging Egypt into slavery, leaving Horus blind and unsure of his future. But some humans like the thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton), believe that Egypt is far better with Horus and plan to get Horus’ eyes back from Set’s booby-trapped vault. But after an unexpected tragedt, Bek is forced to enter into a tense partnership with Horus, who sees humans as only good enough to fetch him water. Faced with the news that Set is murdering gods to take their powers from them, the duo must forge alliances with the lord of the light Ra (Rush) and keeper of wisdom Thoth (Chadwick Boseman) before Set can complete his diabolical plan with the help of the human architect Urshu (Rufus Sewell).

It may not seem like much when one considers the role that story plays in a film, but for Gods of Egypt the CGI nearly ruins the experience. It not only looks like television (no offense to The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow), but the actors are clearly interacting with digital sets. Colors and shadows don't match, action feels disjointed, and the "Reverse Hobbiting" looks like they merely stretched out the demigods instead of giving them weight and mass. The whole thing reminds me of the soundstage disaster that was Fantastic Four. If your universe is to be built on visuals, you'd better get it right. Audiences might also cringe at the lack of diversity here: Gods of Egypt suggests that most deities in that pantheon were white, which is forwarded by a good corps of actors. But when the people of Egypt themselves are cast as mostly white, that's a problem. Any guff this film is getting for missing that point is well deserved.

But Gods of Egypt doesn't really care about that: it's concerned with big, bold set pieces, cheesy (but sometimes effective) dialogue, and brash tactics that conclude way too early and with little effect on our characters. We really don't feel a sense of worry for them, even though Proyas stacks up that acting talent in an effort to deflect Writer Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless's shortcomings. Butler can't (and doesn't seem to want to) escape his iconic Leonidas, but there is a moment when his humanity is allowed to come out, courtesy of Rush's gentle love for him. Thwaites and Coster-Waldau have fun buddy-cop chemistry, while Elodie Young gives off sensual cool. But her potentially impressive backstory is minimized as is Sewell, who's really the only actor whose lines jump off the screen. You'll love Young's suggestive clothing, but hate how she's minimized throughout.

And while Composer Marco Beltrami's score makes for some good playlist-ing, Gods of Egypt doesn't work in a variety of ways. I wasn't sure why Proyas was on the Hollywood Outside looking in, but now the answer seems a little more clear. Check it out on a matinee and with zero expectations, and you might find yourself enjoying its playful mood. Otherwise, add it to your Netflix streaming - believe me, it won't take long to get there.

Gods of Egypt is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality and has a runtime of 127 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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