Before Gods of Egypt came out the movie was the source of a white washing controversy, as the cast of the film is made up largely of white people and the movie is set in Ancient Egypt. But as soon as the movie was released everybody shut up about that because no ethnicity wanted to be associated with the film. Sitting at 16% on Rotten Tomatoes it’s safe to say that Gods of Egypt is one of the most critically reviled films of the year; audiences didn’t much like it either, as the film failed to even break even at the box office.
We all know that Gods of Egypt is a bad movie, a punchline of a film, but I’m here to ask you the question: what if it’s not? What if Gods of Egypt is actually kind of awesome, in its own unique way? What if Gods of Egypt is actually… good?
Yes, I am here to tell you that Gods of Egypt rules. It’s a big, silly, kind of stupid movie but it’s also unrelentingly weird, never boring and always - always! - making audaciously odd choices in everything from production design to costumes to the plot itself. But get this: all of the weird design choices are incredible, and the movie’s aesthetic is total Eccentric Space Egyptian. Every prop and set in the movie is overly ornate, gilded beyond all belief, and created with an exacting eye for oddball worldbuilding. The film just tosses off strikingly bizarro imagery - a god rides a chariot that is pulled by a pair of giant, buzzing scarabs; the god Ra tows the sun behind his enormous, ornate space boat over the lip of the flat Earth; an enormous, unseeable space worm drinks up the Nile River in an attempt to end creation - without even stopping to acknowledge how bugfuck insane everything on screen is.
Oh, and the gods are all about sixteen feet tall and they bleed shiny gold. And when they do battle they change into really boss, shoddily CGI-ed creatures that would make truly excellent action figures.
If there’s one thing that Gods of Egypt reminded me of it’s Jack Kirby’s work on Thor and The New Gods - big, brash, melodramatic, colorful and strange stories of beings beyond the mortal ken. Kirby perfectly melded ancient mythology with his own cosmology and scifi settings to create something unique and exciting, and Gods of Egypt captures that aesthetic more faithfully than Marvel Studios has yet managed to do. The reaction to Gods of Egypt perhaps makes Marvel’s decision to tone things down in Thor seem reasonable in retrospect - critics and audiences were simply not ready for this kind of a blast of weird-ass album cover art presented straight faced and without irony.
That said, Gods of Egypt is self-aware. Director Alex Proyas understands that there’s a silly pulp quality to the whole thing, and he sometimes veers towards Flash Gordon territory as he camps it up. But the genius of the film is that Proyas never lets us see his tongue in his cheek, the movie never winks at the audience. Maybe that’s disorienting - maybe audiences and critics need the film to assure them that it knows that it’s being silly - but for me it’s refreshing. Yes, this stuff is goofy, but that’s why I love big sweeping scifi and fantasy, because it’s often goofy. Gods of Egypt embraces the goofiness.
But here’s the thing: the drama in Gods of Egypt kinda works too. The plot sees Horus about to be crowned the king of Egypt by his retiring dad, Osiris. Set, Osiris’ bad boy brother, comes in from the desert where he lives in self-exile and he fucks shit up - he kills Osiris, plucks out Horus’ all-seeing eyes and then takes the throne himself. He is a bad ruler, enslaving the Egyptian people and forcing them to build the tallest tower in history so he can show off for his father, Ra, the god above all gods. He also closes off access to the afterlife - you can only get in if you bring a bunch of treasure with you, ensuring that the poor slaves can not make it to the other side. As all of this godly intrigue happens a lowly human - a thief named Bek - ends up stealing one of Horus’ eyes from Set’s treasury. Bek, who always hated the gods, teams up with Horus to take down Set and open up the afterlife before his girlfriend, who has been killed by Set, finishes her journey to the final gate to the beyond. It’s weird. And it works! With better casting Bek could have been the Han Solo of a new generation (Brenton Thwaites is unbelievably smug in the role, and in a way that just isn't pleasant), but even as cast the Bek/Horus relationship is fun and engaging.
Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is Horus, and I loved him in his eye patch and greasy hair. In this story Horus lives above humans, not a bad god but haughty. He’s all caught up in his own golden boy shit, and when Set cuts him down to size he begins to learn humility and that his true calling as a god - and as a potential king of Egypt - is to protect his people. It’s not dissimilar from Jaime Lannister’s arc in GOT, so Coster-Waldau knows what he’s doing.
As the villainous Set Gerard Butler is simply delicious. He knows EXACTLY what kind of a movie he’s making and he relishes every single piece of scenery he devours. Butler’s not a good actor in a traditional sense, but he’s a great B-movie star, and here he’s the best he’s been since 300. He plays my favorite kind of villain, the kind who loves being a villain. Set takes pleasure in his evil, and it makes him both fun to watch and fun to root against. He’s not conflicted, he’s not whiny, he’s just trying to ruin everything for everybody else.
The film features a number of other gods who get involved - Elodie Young is Hathor, the god of love, Chadwick Boseman is a hoot as Thoth, the god of wisdom, Anubis has some pretty boss moments - but above all it features Geoffrey Rush in a bald wig and a long white ponytail as Ra, the god above all other gods. And it features him growing to thirty feet tall and blasting fire at Gerard Butler on his space yacht and also blasting a huge space worm with his staff. Geoffrey Rush fucking RULES in this movie.
Gods of Egypt has everything I want in a silly fantasy spectacle - women riding giant cobras that spit fire, multiple scenes of Bek running across floors that are collapsing beneath him, a line-up of dessicated corpses that judge the dead as they cross over to the afterlife, demons popping out of fucking nowhere every time Elodie Young pulls off her bracelet, Chadwick Boseman having his brain removed - and it wraps it all in imaginative, exciting and lush design. The movie clearly didn’t have the budget it needed (this film would have cost like $400 million if it had been at a real studio, not Summit) but it had all the moxie and the spirit anyone could have asked for. It’s a true blast of unusual vision, a movie that shouldn’t exist and that makes almost no concessions for the mainstream. It’s weird from the first frame and it only gets weirder as it goes.
The script is occasionally glib and not all the casting works (but man, a lot of it really does), and Proyas simply didn’t have the budget he needed to bring his fever dream of Ancient Egypt to life, but Gods of Egypt is so much fun and so cool looking that I don’t mind. I’ll take a whirlwind of colorful energy and weirdo ideas over the kind of drab blockbusters 2016 seems intent on serving up to us. I’m sorry I missed this movie in theaters, and I wish I had been able to defend it on initial release. Ten years from now people are going to really enjoy Gods of Egypt for what it is - get in on it early.