You are going to see a lot of reviews and media about Gods Of Egypt reference video games. As much as I dislike when movie critics compare CGI spectacles to so called Triple-A games, it will indeed factor heavily into this review, as the link between to the two is unavoidable. The comparison goes beyond the surface level elements of special effects and bare-bones plotting that involves fetching items. Gods Of Egypt engages in the same recontextualization of ancient mythological that many of the better modern video game narratives employ.
At the same time, it also dredges from the vast pool of sword, sandal, and sorcery movies from the past 30+ years, from the schlocky B-movies of the '80s to the mega budget digitally enhanced blockbusters of today. There are even trace elements of pulp fantasy comics and Saturday morning cartoons running through its veins. I bring this all to bear in order to establish that for all the apparent attempts at unbridled insanity in Gods of Egypt, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen this all before. In some cases better, in other cases admittedly far worse, but the end result is Déjà vu all the same.
I'll start with the elephant in the room, as explaining the context of everything in this movie will be easier with it out of the way. There has been much criticism and outrage about the casting of mostly white actors in a movie about ancient Egypt. The thing is, this manifestation of Egypt might as well be called Eternia, as this is so far out of the realm of reality that it's silly - almost insultingly so - to get upset about its whitewashing when there are other more important battles about cinematic representation of other ethnicities and cultures to be waged. In this movie, Earth is literally a flat plane, God changes day to night by dragging the sun to the other side of the world in his space yacht, and deities battle with transforming mech suits. Forget about Exodus: Gods and Kings; this world is even farther apart from reality than Darren Aronofsky's fantastical rendition of antiquity in Noah, a film itself that was also unnecessarily derided for its white cast. Of course, I cant simply decree that no one should be offended by this movie, but I would humbly submit to dissenters that this is perhaps not the hill to die upon.
With all that in mind, the plot outline becomes decidedly less bizarre and easier to describe without sounding like a crazy person. There are two main stories that intertwine in Gods of Egypt, the first smaller one being the love story between the roguishly handsome thief Bek and his devout lover Zaya, who share a love that transcends the afterlife. The other story that carries the brunt of the melodrama and bombast is the quest of Horus, God of the Air to free the lands of tyranny and save the world from oblivion. The opening of the film establishes that mortals live together in relative peace with the gods, seen here as twelve-foot-tall humanoids who bleed gold and posses incredible powers to rule over creation. Bek and Zaya attend the coronation of Horus, the throne abdicated unto him by his father Osiris. The coronation is crashed by Set, the chaotic God of War and Desert, who murders Osiris and maims Horus in battle, taking his magical eyes and the throne of Egypt for himself, ushering in a reign of oppression and terror.
While forced into slavery under the dastardly master builder Urshu, Zaya obtains the blueprints for Set's treasure vault. Zaya convinces Bek to infiltrate the vault and steal back the Eye of Horus, hoping to return Horus' power to him that he might reclaim his position as the just and rightful ruler of the land. Bek is successful, but in their escape Zaya is mortally wounded. Bek reaches Horus and returns the one eye, striking a deal to help Horus obtain the the rest of his power (due to his knowledge gained from the stolen blueprints) in return for his help rescuing Zaya from the afterlife. In general, the narrative replicates the feel of a video game quest, where the logic behind scene transitions is less about the flow of storytelling and more about shuttling the player/viewer to the next level (forest level, swamp level, desert ruins, fiery dungeon) to speak with characters who will join your party. With each set piece and action sequence, however, I was constantly reminded of specific video games wherein I first saw the devices at play.
In the first battle between Set and Horus, they engage their Devil Triggers and unleash furious attacks in their powered up forms. Multiple elements of the God Of War games are referenced: from the death trap dungeon that Bek traverses, to the violent finishing move close-ups during Horus' fight with other deities, to the quick time battle with giant serpents, to the bellicose growling rampage of Gerard Butler as he murders gods one by one. That same dungeon crawling, giant boss fighting, and obtaining parts of gods in particular also reminded me of the Darksiders series, which puts a hyper-stylized comic book twist on Old Testament mythology and biblical imagery of the four horsemen. The quest to save a loved one from damnation was reminiscent of the game Dante's Inferno, a hack & slash bastardization of the epic literary masterpiece The Divine Comedy.
During the final battle between the "max level" Set and Horus as their winged armored fighting suits clashed in mid-air, I had flashbacks of the fast paced aerial combat in Zone of the Enders, which itself incorporates Egyptian mythology in some of its designs. Even during the most bizarre scene of the film involving the gargantuan world-eating space serpent Apophis, I couldn't help but be reminded of the even grander awe-inspiring boss fight against a planet-sized foe in Asura's Wrath, a game which borrows heavily from Hindu and Buddhist mythology to create a peculiar mishmash of sci-fi action-adventure super-powered anime insanity.
I've prattled on and on about the video game influence, but in the interest of fairness I should also note just how liberally Gods Of Egypt rips off other movies big and small. The most direct cinematic comparison would be the Clash of the Titans, both the original 1981 classic and the execrable 2010 remake and its languid sequel Wrath Of The Titans. They even follow the tradition of casting respected veteran actors to class things up while hamming it up even more; whereas the original Titans featured Laurence Olivier and the remake brought on Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, Gods Of Egypt enlists Geoffrey Rush to play the Sun God, Ra, and even my main man Rufus Sewell shows up to play the villainous builder Urshu. The films share a penchant for overblown CGI dungeons and mythical beasts, as the aforementioned Apophis takes the place of the Krakken. As I thought further back however, imagery of warring god-kings and a giant worm plowing through the desert sands also reminded me of David Lynch's Dune.
The casting of Gerard Butler was no doubt meant to elicit memories of his turn as a grandiose warrior monarch character in 300, but the PG-13 Gods of Egypt is a tame, bloodless affair in comparison. Similarly, the beautiful Elodie Yung as the Goddess of Love, Hathor, along with the comely Courtney Eaton (who made her screen debut last year in Fury Road as Cheedo the Fragile), all speak to the sensibilities of horny teenage boys, but the writing of characterization seems geared more toward an eight-year-old's perception of how an adventure story should be told. In fact, the stock tropes and formulaic proceedings of this film emulate the gamut of 21st century Young Adult fantasy adaptations and modern retelling of fairy tales; a sprinkle of Eragon, a bit of Percy Jackson, a smattering of Seventh Son, a touch of Harry Potter, a pinch of Maleficent, a dash of Snow White & the Huntsman....you get the idea: same shit, different day.
The most surprising thing about Gods Of Egypt was that I didn't outright hate it. I have already seen worse movies this year, and I may yet see something even more abominable in the near future. The conceptual insanity of the movie could be the one selling point to it all, but the truth is unless you haven't played a modern action-adventure game in the past ten years or so, this overbearing maelstrom of CGI bombast is rote and played out. I felt neither disdain nor schadenfreude during it, only boredom and a slight headache afterwards. I can't even recommend “hate watching” this or checking it out for the morbid curiosity, since instead of being mesmerized by cinematic atrocity, you'll be constantly reminded of fonder experiences you've had with other games and movies. Movies like this are why modern video game consoles come readily available with streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu. Stay home and fire up that old RPG you never finished or watch that terrible looking B-movie in your queue that your friend said you have to check out; it will be a lot more eventful than sitting through Gods Of Egypt.