Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
Ah, the historical action-adventure: one of the most promising but also consistently disappointing subgenres that exists. As thoroughly packed as human history is with epic moments, there is always massive narrative potential in any historical action movie, but more often than not, they’re huge flops. Now, it’s worth considering that there’s almost always a budgetary factor – realistically bringing the past to life isn’t cheap – but the fact remains that such movies come with an inherent risk.
2016’s Gods of Egypt was no exception. Set, unsurprisingly, in ancient Egypt, the film follows the mortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) as he teams up with the deposed god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to form an alliance against the tyrannical Set (Gerard Butler), who rules Egypt with an iron fist. After a negative reception, Gods of Egypt lost an estimated $90 million, earning it a reputation as a box office bomb. But is it really as bad as its financial losses suggest? The answer is far more complex than one might think.
Gods Of Egypt Takes An Unorthodox Approach To History – Why That’s Problematic
Gods of Egypt isn’t specifically set in the past, but rather in an alternate fantastical version of ancient Egypt in which gods live among mortals and rule over them as kings and queens. Establishing that idea is clearly too much work, because the movie does very little to explain its weird blending of history and fantasy, and instead just vaguely hopes that the audience will understand what it’s doing. That’s Gods of Egypt‘s first major mistake, and it happens in the opening narration.
Then, the film introduces its audience to an Egypt that is populated mostly by white people. This includes the Egyptian deities (or the giant, superpowered versions of them that exist in Gods of Egypt‘s world), painting the picture of a multicultural historical culture that just happens to have borrowed multiple names and ideas from Egyptian mythology. The tone-deaf casting is bad, but it gets worse with every new character introduced because it seems almost as though actors of every nationality except Egyptian were considered.
The story that Gods of Egypt tells is even further removed from the actual mythology it tries to pass itself off for. It’s more like a fantastical retelling of Hamlet than it is a historical epic, making it feel more like a strange live-action rip-off of The Lion King than anything else. Playing fast and loose with mythology in such a way is particularly problematic as it underpins the entire experience, effectively undermining every element of the film and making all of its positive elements seem far less enjoyable.
Gods Of Egypt Narrowly Manages To Be More Entertaining Than Insulting
However, in spite of the horrifically insensitive bastardization of Egyptian history, Gods of Egypt actually manages to be decently entertaining. This is largely thanks to its core cast (which consists of three white males, which again, is impossible to ignore): Brenton Thwaites brings a natural charisma to the role of Bek that allows him to bounce off of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s wooden-scripted Horus. Gerard Butler spends much of the movie hamming things up as the villainous Set, but each man plays his role well. Though it may be over the top, Coster-Waldau’s Horus feels appropriately stoic and pensive, while Butler’s Set is unabashedly evil. There’s no mistaking who Gods of Egypt wants the audience to root for, and though it may be a little brainless, it’s no more ridiculous than the average superhero movie.
One element of Gods of Egypt that genuinely stands out is its visual design. It does manage to evoke the splendor of Ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and its relentless use of CGI is achieved without ever becoming aesthetically offensive. It’s clear that a great deal of work went into conjuring a sense of awe, and that’s only partly tainted by the blatant cultural appropriation and historical inaccuracy.
Gods of Egypt‘s action is fun and cheesy and all the things one has come to expect from big-budget cinema. Its biggest issue is that it seems to have become confused by its own gimmick, but ultimately, its actors are able to carry the formulaic plot through well enough. There’s not a great deal of genuine excitement to be had, and there’s even less in the way of innovation, but Gods of Egypt really isn’t quite as bad as its reputation suggests.
Summary: For a film that practically revels in its historical inaccuracy, Gods of Egypt actually manages to be a reasonably fun movie once you move past its cultural tone-deafness. It’s predictable and formulaic, but it’s buoyed by an experienced cast who play to their strengths.
Highlights: The use of gold blood for deities is a nice touch, and it’s one example of the small details that hint Gods of Egypt was intended as more than a complex and offensive joke.