Chadwick Boseman shows that not every film can be a winner with this epic Egyptian stinker.
You can’t win ’em all. Over the course of his short career, Chadwick Boseman turned out a dozen films that varied from good to excellent. And then he did Gods of Egypt. I usually like to give every movie the benefit of the doubt on our How Bad Is It? series…but I’m going to have to expand the “what went wrong?” section for this one just to be honest.
Gods of Egypt (2016)
The survival of mankind hangs in the balance when Set (Gerard Butler), the merciless god of darkness, usurps Egypt’s throne and plunges the prosperous empire into chaos and conflict. Hoping to save the world and rescue his true love, a defiant mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) forms an unlikely alliance with the powerful god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Their battle against Set and his henchmen takes them into the afterlife and across the heavens for an epic confrontation.
What Went Wrong?
- White-washing. Hollywood loves to imagine ancient Egypt as lily white. From Russian-American Yul Brynner playing Pharoah in the Ten Commandments, to Aussie Joel Edgerton playing the role in 2014’s travesty Exodus: Gods and Kings, La La Land typically makes Egypt’s rulers white as the driven sand, while relegating darker complexions to subservient roles. Yeah. That sucks.
Gods of Egypt takes this trend to the Nth degree: not only is the aristocracy extremely white, but the gods themselves are blindingly white. Only two gods have any pigment, Elodie Yung as Hathor and Chadwick Boseman as the strangely effete Thoth. Even our two mortal protagonists are white. It looks racist as hell that the background cast is mostly dark-skinned, but every named role except two have the Caucasian dial cranked to 11.
- Miscast. For all of the whitening, you’d think the film would try to make the case “we chose the actors for the roles based on suitability, not skin tone.” That lie flies right out the window the minute we see any of them act. Gerard Butler gives his usual “still stuck in Sparta” routine of shouting and glowering. Likewise, Geoffrey Rush always seems one “har, matey!” away from turning Ra into Captain Barbossa.
Thwaites’s main character Bek feels like central casting sent The Artful Dodger to the wrong studio lot. Most of the female cast is wasted on obvious eye-candy (more on this later…) Even Chadwick Boseman feels out of place; his cerebral god of knowledge is a prat who doesn’t come off as all that smart.
- Flirting with R. Gods of Egypt appears distinctly uncomfortable with its PG-13 rate. People have their eyes torn out and limbs hacked off, and routinely get stabbed repeatedly. To get around the gore, the film resorts to chicanery based on them being gods – when they get a bit ripped off, it turns into an artifact, and they bleed gold so there’s no blood gushing all over the place.
Egypts version of “I’ve got your nose” must be brutal!
- The female cast exists for the male gaze only, and egregiously so. We first meet Bek’s love Zaya, as she’s preparing for Horus’ coronation, which of course means seeing her go from scantily clad to completely unclad, before winding up in a dress that you could teach anatomy lessons from. When she dies (cause of course hero motivation only comes from female corpses!) she goes to the underworld in a dress that’s more “sexy cocktail party” than “somber burial shroud.” She tells Anubis that the only thing she can offer the judges of the dead is her smile. I’m surprised he didn’t suggest she’s got other assets that might get her more mileage.
- Who Edited this Crap!? So, if there’s a ton of carnage, the action must be pretty good, right? Wrong. I was staggered by how badly this movie was edited. The choreography for each fight would make Hercules the Legendary Journeys blush. Not only is it poorly blocked, but there are so many horrible cuts you feel dizzy. Not the kind of cuts used to sell an action sequence or hide stunt-work; cuts that show a completely different take is being used, which swing you around through space and time.
Non fight sequences are just as bad, if not worse. When Bek is running from the shopkeeper he stole the sexy dress from, it randomly skips shots, like he’s Nightcrawler teleporting through the market. The narrative jumps from scene to scene in the same manner, where suddenly we’re just somewhere else and time has either progressed or not depending on the director’s whims. It’s a godawful mess.
- Janky CG. 2016 had its share of bad CG – looking at you, Batman V. Superman! It also had its share of great CG, like Captain American Civil War, and Darth Vader going ham on those rebels in Rogue One. For a movie with 140 million dollars in budget, you’d hope Gods of Egypt would get things right. Some scene work out, but the film relies so heavily on digital effects that anything screwy jumps out at you.
The gods are a mixed bag. Being digitally enlarged to one and half times human size makes for some cool shots…but also for some laughably bad bits. The sizing never feels consistent. When the gods turn into giant, shiny murder robots with animal heads…they look terrible. And generic. Add to this some daft decisions (you really couldn’t find horses and elephants? You had to CG up some nightmare facsimiles?) and it’s just another bad move that pulls you out of the story.
What Went Right?
- It Doesn’t Overstay its Welcome. There’s not a lot to praise about the film, but at least it moves at a brisk pace. You cover a lot of geography, including the heavens and the underworld, without plodding along. I guess if I had to sit through the movie equivalent of a head cold, I can be glad it didn’t linger.
- Geoffrey Rush Blasting a Space Worm. I remember enough high school mythology classes to understand that Ra fights the embodiment of chaos every night in order to keep the sun coming up. The film does absolutely nothing to prepare us for seeing this event. If you didn’t know in advance, it would seem like the most surreal jack-assery. But at the end of the day, you get a raged-out, covered in fire Geoffrey Rush screaming obscenities at the sandworm from Dune while blasting its ass with a bazooka spear. So that’s a win.
How Bad Is…Gods of Egypt?
It’s bad. Very bad. If not for all of the problematic bits, it’s almost so bad it’s good. It is the daftest thing I’ve seen since the good old days of idiotic mythological adventures like Sinbad or Clash of the Titans. If the film had the charm of a Ray Harryhausen practical effects smorgasbord, and had ditched all of the leering and white-washing, the film could have easily been a guilty pleasure. Lord knows that Gerard Butler or Geoffrey rush chewing scenery has carried off movies I liked less.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the film is pretty much irreparably bad. The casting is off, the visuals are flawed, and it’s poorly made from an editing standpoint. Oh, and it’s sexist and obliviously racist. So there’s that.