Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gods of Egypt: Where to Begin? Why to Begin?

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Director: Alex Proyas
Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldu, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush

Because it’s January, it’s cold outside, and I don’t have any papers to grade yet, I figured I should get up to speed on a few movies I missed over the past couple of years. Last night, I realized that I hadn’t used my free month trial of HBO content via Amazon Prime, and I fell into a rabbit hole of movies that I’d wanted to see. I’d originally planned to watch a few movies and do another compilation post like I did with my summertime horror-fest, but this movie…needed a lot more explanation than a mini-post could give. My usual recommendations are “Sure, watch this” or “Watch this when you get a chance, it’s okay” or “Don’t waste your time”—but Gods of Egypt gets a special recommendation: watch this with your friends and turn it into a drinking game. I’m sure there will be some easy way to do that. The story (and film, as a whole) is bloated and ridiculous, the acting and humor is forced most of the time, and the CGI overwhelms the movie.

Horus (Coster-Waldau) is about to receive kingship over Egypt when his uncle, Set (Butler), ruins the party and steals Horus’ eyes—which magically pop out of his head and turn into shining blue gems. Set takes the throne as a tyrant, and Bek (Thwaites) plans to steal Horus’ eyes from Set and return them to Horus in hopes that Horus will regain the throne and benevolently rule. After Bek, a mere mortal thief, steals one of the eyes and returns it to Horus, the two set out on an odd-couple adventure leading through the pyramids, over the Nile, and even up to visit Grandpa Ra (Rush) who controls the sun.

What…even is this? By the trailers I saw when this movie came out, it looked like a train wreck of a story. I’ll be honest: I went in wanting to hate this movie, and that goal was verily achieved. This is a bloated mess, as if I’d show this to a bored history student to say, “See?! Egyptology can be super cool and interesting!” The director must have really wanted to cram as much Egyptian mythology as possible into this flick, because there’s a ton of stuff that could have been cut, such as the numerous action scenes that didn’t really progress the plot at all. The movie was two hours, but it could have been cut down to 90 minutes pretty easily. We didn’t need to have a ten-minute fight with giant snakes, we didn’t need another ten-minute fight with the sphinx, and we didn’t need a climactic battle against a space monster. Yes. You heard me. Let that sink in.

The treatment of female characters in Gods of Egypt helps cause the bloatation of the story. You might have noticed that I didn’t list any women in the “Stars” section at the beginning of this post. That is because the women in this movie really serve no purpose: they’re plot devices. Horus wants to overthrow Set—why? Number one, yes, Set is a jerk of a king, but Set also took Horus’ girlfriend. Bek wants to help Horus overthrow Set—why? Because Bek believes Horus can help bring back his girlfriend from the underworld. Set besieges the temple of his ex-wife, Nephthys—why? Not because she’s a threat or anything, but because he wants to strip her of her godly powers and use them for himself. The women in this movie don’t really do much or have much agency of their own, so I’m not sure why the director wanted to keep all these loves stories in here. Wouldn’t it be enough for Bek to want to help wrest Egypt away from Set because he’s a bad ruler? No? Well, better give Bek a girlfriend to save. This is a classic case of “How do we sell this movie? Oh yeah, we need a love story.”

Throughout the film, the acting was pretty bad, even with the big names they tacked onto it. The poster for this movie on Amazon Prime lists Coster-Waldau, Butler, and Rush—again, throwing out the big names to draw people in, but a good amount of the cast wasn’t anybody I recognized from other movies (except Chadwick Boseman). It seemed
like most of the actors realized what a bomb this movie was going to be and said, “Eh, it’s a paycheck.” In period films like this, especially the ancient period, it seems like there’s a convention where all the actors try to put on an English accent, like an English accent is somehow related to antiquity; that being said, the actors weren’t really on the same page there: some actors did the accent, some actors didn’t, and Butler’s accent is…all over the place. He tries to drop his regular Scottish accent, but it still comes through quite a bit. Even Rush, an Oscar-winning actor, seemed to be half-hearting his role. Most of the cast seemed to go through the motions, and this definitely showed in the humor.

Amazon lists this as a fantasy-adventure movie, so it’s probably going to have some campy moments or, at least, some humor injected into the dialogue. I recently watched The Hobbit trilogy again, and there were plenty of funny moments there for a fantasy-adventure, but Gods of Egypt forced a lot of the dialogue—which, in turn, forced a lot of the humor. Because the actors didn’t seem into it, the dialogue fell pretty flat, and the humor that did show up was fairly predictable to me. For all the light-hearted moments in the film, I don’t remember laughing a single time. I laughed at the movie as a whole, but not the jokes that were being told. Maybe that’s how Gods of Egypt can be turned into a drinking game: drink whenever you don’t laugh at a joke in the movie. If you drank whenever there was a CGI effect on-screen, you’d need a new liver by the end credits.

With all the advances in motion capture technology in Hollywood, it seems like every new action movie—especially fantasy-adventures—are using tons of CGI. That’s exactly the case with Gods of Egypt, and it’s overwhelming to say the least. For starters, the gods are said to be much taller than mortal humans, so there’s some CGI to make those actors look taller than the extras around them; I’m assuming that Proyas based this on ancient hieroglyphics depicting the gods speaking to humans, but I found it very distracting. Next, the gods can turn themselves into fantastic beasts made of metal (or something?) when they want to really fight tooth and nail, so there’s even more CGI. Add in sandstorms, the underworld, Ra’s sun-ship, a space monster, and numerous overhead shots of the kingdom of Egypt, and that all makes for a hell of a lot of CGI. I don’t really have anything against CGI work, but the filmmakers could at least try to use some practical effects before going to the computer and saying, “No, I want the laser beams here, here, and here.”

Practical effects: make up and costuming that looks good

CGI to make Anubis, god of the underworld

I’ve said all this, and I didn’t even touch on the film’s controversial “whitewashing”—casting white actors to play roles that are logically meant for non-white actors, such as Egyptian gods who are played by a bunch of white folks. I could have taken this a little more seriously without the whitewashing, but that’s something you can find online for yourself. Like I said at the beginning, this movie is an absolute train wreck. Again, it’s a movie I wanted to see because it looked so bad. I’d like to say that this is a thoughtless popcorn movie, but there’s so much weird stuff—bad stuff—happening that I can’t really recommend it. Unless there’s drinking involved. This is one of those movies that’s so bad that you need to watch it with friends and play Mystery Science Theater to make it truly enjoyable.