Tweetable Takeaway: Let’s keep this simple so you know we’re serious: @GodsOfEgypt was really fun Tweet
GODS OF EGYPT is a $140 million film that is not likely to make even a third of it’s budget opening weekend. After (rightly) being accused of white-washing Egyptians to build a “more marketable” cast and minimal advertising, the movie has struggled to gain much traction – at least any positive traction – ahead of its release this weekend. Which is just too damn bad because this movie is actually a lot of fun.
As Ghostbusters taught us, “if someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes.” But if you’re an actor being offered a god role… you should probably think about the mythology of the god you’re portraying. There’s simply no excuse to make a film about Egyptian mythology and fill it with a mostly white cast… though Gerard Butler’s attempts to stifle his Scottish accent are pretty entertaining. The filmmakers did release an apology for the casting of the film, and while that doesn’t excuse it, I’m also not going to continue to harp on it. Director Alex Proyas seemed sincerely apologetic about the casting decisions, certainly more so than when Ridley Scott shrugged off his white-washing of Exodus: Gods And Kings, insisting that he couldn’t get a movie made with an unknown, diverse cast. Ultimately, it’s in the hands of the studios, and its pathetic that in 2016 they still need to live by these ‘numbers’ to determine which stars are more valuable than others, thereby dictating these kinds of choices.
But let’s turn our attention to the final product. The movie follows Brenton Thwaites as the mortal Bek who teams up with the wounded god, Horus (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) to remove Horus’s uncle Set (Gerard Butler) from the thrown of Egypt and retrieve Bek’s great love Zaya before she crosses into the afterlife. The story is based on the legendary battle between Horus and Set after the latter kill’s his brother and Horus’s father Osiris. The movie works hard to give viewers a good amount of exposition as quickly and smoothly as possible. Naturally, it’s clunky, though not nearly the trainwreck one might expect. Once the exposition is out of the way, we get the initial fight between Set and Horus in which Horus loses an eye before setting out on the journey with Bek.
Viewers will see echoes of other ‘epic’ stories for their childhoods, including Aladdin, The Wizard Of Oz, and Willow… okay, that’s a weird list, but allow me to explain. Watching thief/street-rat Bek duck in and out of the marketplace with the bouncy score made me wish Thwaites would break out into song. But as the film progresses and shifts its focus to Horus, I was reminded of Val Kilmer in Willow. This is particularly apparent watching Coster-Waldau banter with his love interest Hathor, played to light-hearted fun by Elodie Yung.
As for The Wizard Of Oz, this is the most apparent with the arrival of Chadwick Boseman’s Thoth in his sweeping green and gold temple and other visuals in the picture. The success of this movie leans heavily on its visuals. The design team went above and beyond to build a complete world in which viewers could fall in love. Consider last year’s Pan, the art design of which referred to too many disparate sources (Star Wars, Roald Dahl, plus of course Joe Wright just being himself) and ultimately, they just didn’t gel. Gods of Egypt, meanwhile, feels cohesive. Proyas and composer Marco Beltrani bring everything together with a fantastic score, music which not only sets the tone for epic saga, but conveys a sense of just how much Proyas loves this story.
If you’re not familiar with the mythology, the story could come across as odd, even campy. The writers, of course, do not adhere to the details of the legend, rather expanding it as they introduce the character of Bek who (as far as I can recall) was never a part of the original story. The stand outs of the film are by far Elodie Yung as the love goddess Hathor and Chadwick Boseman as the god of wisdom, Thoth. Yung’s performance in this film made me all the more excited to see her in season two of Netflix’s Daredevil. Same goes for Boseman in Black Panther. From Gods of Egypt to Get On Up, Boseman delivers every time.
Apart from the aforementioned white-washing, there were a couple of things that completely took me out of the movie, namely Gerard Butler (you may think of him as “Not Russell Crowe”) and Brenton Thwaites’s curly, dirty-blonde wig. Even if you force yourself to put aside the white-washing, Butler’s performance still doesn’t work within the world that Proyas has created. It may sound impossible, but Butler’s performance needed to be more intense. Here, he seemed stunted, lacking that level of grizzle and power that made him so memorable in 300. Maybe because he was working too hard on his accent. And as for Thwaites’s wig: this kid is so cute, how could you do that to him? And why would you make his naturally dark hair lighter?
While this movie is fantastic, epic fun, it feels as though it’s from 20 years ago – even if 20 years ago the filmmakers would’ve found a way to create stronger visuals with less expensive, practical effects. Maybe the movie will surprise and do better than expected, but I have a feeling it will simply live in a world of late night plays on FX or Esquire. Ready for the kicker? Thanks to a 46% tax incentive from the Australian government and robust foreign pre-sales, Lionsgate insists that its exposure on Gods of Egypt is only around $10 million. Casting blonde Europeans for an Egyptian film was a terrible decision from the get-go, and yet the lesson that Hollywood executives will take away from this will likely be ‘Don’t a movie about Egyptian mythology’ rather than ‘Next time, make a smart, diverse, appropriately cast film about Egyptian mythology’. Try giving non-white audiences an opportunity to see versions of themselves in the fantasy genre for once so we can better weigh the merits of the film without having these distracting – and disgusting – ‘business decisions’ looming over it.
Score: 3 out of 5
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer