“The characters here are so archetypal and flat they might as well be hieroglyphics.”

by Steve Pulaski

“If I were even to try to explain, your brain would liquefy and pour out your ears.” – actual line from Gods of Egypt.

Such a quote is so appropriate for a film like Gods of Egypt, a two-hour long raucous ride through glorious production design and mediocre everything else. Rarely do I find myself sitting in an action film silently begging it to transition from scenes involving never-ending dialog and flat character relations to something more lively and harrowing. Fortunately, Gods of Egypt packs a wallop in its plethora of action sequences, but in order to get to the visual goods, you must sit through, in total, over an hour of monotone dialog spouted from beefy, hulking Gods that wears on the mind so quickly you wish they would just morph into chrome-coated creatures again and begin dueling until something meaningful happened.

Consistent readers of my work will take note that I usually do not possess such an attitude when watching action films. Normally, I like my action/epic films with a lot of characterization and dialog; even if it’s poorly conceived or lackluster dialog, I usually acknowledge the film’s ambition to try and turn Gods and mythical heroes into characters modern audiences can sympathize with. With Gods of Egypt, my admiration began to breed contempt after I saw what the film’s visuals were capable of; after that, sitting through endless, rote dialog by characters who are just mythical cut-outs of Egyptian Gods, was just not what I was in the mood to do. The visual effects in “Gods of Egypt” are extraordinary; a commendable mix of modern sleekness with the pulpy aesthetic of a medium-budget epic, the production design in this film is truly something to behold.

The film is centered around a mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who aligns with the Egyptian God Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) following the death of his lover Zaya (Courtney Eaton) in efforts to dethrone Set (Gerard Butler), the God of Darkness who has just seized the empire. What entails is a brutal struggle for Bek and Horus to get through numerous different traps and roadblocks in order to get to Set to reclaim the throne of the Egyptian empire and try to resurrect Zaya.

Gods of Egypt
Directed by
Alex Proyas
Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler
Release Date
26 February 2016
Steve’s Grade: D

I spend so little time introducing the plot for two reasons: one, if you’re going to see Gods of Egypt, the plot is probably the last thing on your mind, and two, it’s convoluted thanks to the overabundance of characters and the lack of clarity in the respective chronology and period when this is occurring. The latter issues make it difficult to sink into Gods of Egypt and become invested in it on a personal level. This is precisely what led to me simply wishing for more action sequences than anything in the way of character dialog.

The characters here are so archetypal and flat they might as well be hieroglyphics. They are fearless, immortal (even the mortals, it seems) beings that never seem to be in any real danger regardless of the circumstances, and they’re played and written in a manner that doesn’t engage. Thwaites and Coster-Waldau are not very engaging screen presences at all, and for the umpteenth time, neither is Gerard Butler, who keeps getting cast in these films as if he truly bring some layeredness to the table. I’m convinced that all three of these actors, with the appropriate script, could be extremely convincing performers in a film, but once again, especially in Butler’s case, Hollywood seems to have a lack of confidence and conviction in them as performers and throws them into a film with a low-rent script with a high-stakes pricetag.

To be fair, the high-stakes pricetag results in some of the most visually eye-catching effects we’re likely to see this year. The entire film is gorgeously photographed, largely thanks to the sun-soaked cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr., who has helped shoot everything from the Lara Croft films to Kangaroo Jack. Menzies Jr. and director Alex Proyas direct this film with a series of sweeping shots and nicely paced sequences of peril, my personal favorite being a scene where both Bek and Horus are challenged with outrunning two gigantic, fire-breathing serpents on a maze-like floor. And let’s not forget the suspenseful sequence involving Bek trying to obtain a glowing gem on heavily booby-trapped floors, which accentuates everything one has come to love about modern action filmmaking. However, as stated before, these scenes only come interjected between the incessant amount of droning dialog we have to endure over the course of a terribly long-wined two hours.

The epitome of irony is Gods of Egypt opening on the same weekend as the 88th Academy Awards premiering on TV, which is being criticized for the second year in a row now for a lack of diversity, and the film featuring a cast largely comprised of Australian performers. Not to mention, the country of Australian apparently gave the film a 46% tax break if it shot on-location in Australia, which continues to add to the question; was this film made by the people who have their names on the credits or simply made by the circumstances that keenly fell into place for the filmmaking process (no-name actors in the biggest roles resulting in lower pay for talent, tax writeoffs, an ethnically challenged cast, etc)?