Film Review: ‘Gods of Egypt’

This extravagantly silly ersatz epic has a lunatic conviction you can't help but admire.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Chadwick Boseman, Elodie Yung, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, Bryan Brown.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404233/

At a certain point in “Gods of Egypt,” an extravagantly silly foray into Afroasiatic mythology from the director Alex Proyas, one wounded deity begs another to show him mercy — a futile request as far as his enemy is concerned, but one that may strike a more receptive chord with the compassionate viewer (which is to say, any viewer who would buy a ticket to “Gods of Egypt”). Since the film enters theaters already in its death throes — undone by toxic word of mouth, much criticism of its predominantly white cast, and an opening-weekend box office projection of about 10% of its $140 million production budget — perhaps a little kindness would not be misplaced. So here goes: This is by any measure a dreadful movie, a chintzy, CG-encrusted eyesore that oozes stupidity and self-indulgence from every pore. Yet damned if Proyas doesn’t put it all out there with a lunatic conviction you can’t help but admire, immediately earning this Lionsgate release a place in the 2016 pantheon of gloriously watchable follies.

With its burnt-yellow cinematography, its excessively gilded production design and its blinding flashes of sunlight, “Gods of Egypt” at times doesn’t suggest a movie so much as a giant cinematic tanning salon — all the better, perhaps, to darken the pearlescent skin tones of most of the actors on display (an effect that can be further enhanced with your purchase of murk-maximizing 3D glasses). The opening scene sweeps us over the streets, roofs and pyramids of ancient Egypt, a prosperous kingdom ruled over by the wise and benevolent Osiris (Bryan Brown). For centuries Osiris has allowed his lowly mortal subjects to dwell in harmony with the gods, who tower over everyone thanks to the latest advances in digital height-modification technology.

Everything changes, however, at the coronation of Osiris’ son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), also known as the Lord of the Air. In storms Osiris’ jealous brother, the desert god Set (Gerard Butler), who promptly murders the king in full view of the horrified public, then defeats his nephew Horus in a duel and gouges out his eyes. It all happens so quickly, and with such dynamic “Virtua Fighter”-style whooshings of the camera, that you barely have time to register such head-scratching details as, say, the fact that Set is way too young to be Osiris’ brother, or the hilariously unexplained provenance of Butler’s Scottish accent. But don’t think too hard about it. It’s magic!

Some time later, Set has established a new reign of terror in which mortals, once free to enter the afterlife, must now buy their way in with treasure. Meanwhile, said mortals have now been sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor, including Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a wily, handsome and quite boring young thief who dreams of freeing Horus from his self-imposed exile. And so, with the help of his fetching lover, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), and under the nose of Set’s right-hand man, Urshu (Rufus Sewell), Bek breaks into the palace’s booby-trapped vault and steals back one of Horus’ eyes. Now sporting a sexy eyepatch, the Lord of the Air determines to seize his revenge against Set and take back the crown.

First, however, Horus must address a few complications, such as the fact that his former squeeze, Hathor (Elodie Yung), is now bedding down with his nemesis; their love nest is strategically positioned next to a towering obelisk that underscores Set’s lust for conquest and his nagging infertility issues. Hathor, incidentally, is described in the production notes as “the goddess of love, music and alcohol,” which means that she presumably would be in a position to do something about Marco Beltrami’s epically tumescent score, or at least to ensure that no one walks into “Gods of Egypt” without a beer in hand. In a movie where the deities transform at will into winged, animal-headed Hasbro figurines, or where Geoffrey Rush’s white-robed sun god Ra reliably bursts into craptacular CG flames, the drinking games pretty much write themselves.

Coming off “I, Robot” and “Knowing,” Proyas hasn’t exactly been in his element for a while, but every so often the elaborate kitsch and clutter of his visual design clears away for the sort of striking effect that reminds you of the impassioned fantasist who gave us “The Crow” and “Dark City” — a small sandstorm that becomes a portal between the lands of the dead and the living, or the enormous proto-Starship Enterprise that Ra navigates through the heavens, every night doing battle with what appears to be a thunder cloud with teeth. At times the camera stays still long enough for you to take in the details of Liz Palmer’s ornately bejeweled costumes, though unfortunately, this also gives you time to study the almost surreal disconnect between foreground and background in every artificial-looking frame.

As ever, Proyas doesn’t skimp on spectacle, though it’s a disappointment when the Sphinx inevitably shows up and disgorges her riddle; you want to tell her to either slow down and enunciate or get the hell back to Vegas. The movie’s action highlight finds two evil goddesses, Astarte (Abbey Lee) and Anat (Yaya Deng), chasing after Horus and Bek on enormous fire-breathing cobras, forcing our mismatched heroes to put their heads together. Coster-Waldau and Thwaites manage a passable, bickersome on-screen chemistry that drives the movie toward its big moral epiphany, which is the importance of treating even one’s so-called inferiors with decency, as Horus slowly learns to see the worth of his mortal subjects and the entwined nature of their destinies.

But really, who is “Gods of Egypt” kidding? Like so many of Hollywood’s sword-and-sandal offerings, this interminable ersatz epic consigns most of the human race to a sea of digital extras while subjecting its immortal characters to more than two hours’ worth of big-screen deification. Butler, looking and sounding so out of place you may wonder if he’s doing early cross-promotion for “Cairo Has Fallen,” nonetheless perfectly embodies the crass, ham-fisted sensibility of the enterprise: He’d be chewing the scenery if you could chew green screen. Not to be outdone in the weird-accent department, Chadwick Boseman glares and snarks up a storm in the role of Thoth, the haughty and imperious god of wisdom. If he knows why this movie exists, he’s not telling.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Gods of Egypt'

Reviewed at AMC Century City 15, Feb. 24, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 127 MIN.

Production: (U.S.-Australia) A Lionsgate (in U.S.) release of a Summit Entertainment presentation of a Thunder Road Pictures/Mystery Clock Cinema production. Produced by Basil Iwanyk, Alex Proyas. Executive producers, Stephen Jones, Topher Dow, Kent Kubena.  

Crew: Directed by Alex Proyas. Screenplay, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Peter Menzies Jr.; editor, Richard Learoyd; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, Owen Paterson; supervising art director, Ian Gracie; art director, Sophie Nash; set decorator, Nicki Gardiner; set designers, Mara Garanzini, Nick Sargent, Alanna Baudinet; costume designer, Liz Palmer; sound, Martin Pashley; supervising sound editor/designer, Wayne Pashley; re-recording mixers, Greg P. Fitzgerald, Pashley, Peter Purcell; special effects supervisor, Dan Oliver; senior visual effects supervisor, Eric Durst; visual effects producer, Jack Geist; visual effects, Iloura, Rising Sun Pictures, Rodeo FX, Cinesite, UPP, Raynault VFX, Tippett Studio, Fin, Comen VFX; special makeup effects, Odd Studio; stunt coordinator, Ric Anderson; fight choreographer, Tim Wong; 3D conversion, Legend3D; associate producer, Brian Bookman; assistant director, P.J. Voeten; second unit director, Kimble Rendall; second unit camera, Brad Shield; casting, John Papsidera.

With: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Chadwick Boseman, Elodie Yung, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, Bryan Brown.

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content