Gods of Egypt, a visual-effects driven blockbuster, has some of the worst visual effects of all time

Photos courtesy Lionsgate.

Gods of Egypt, after the first trailer dropped, was immediately scheduled for crusafixion over its casting of almost uniformly white actors in a movie about the Egyptian pantheon, which obviously should be made up of black and Arabic actors. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t need political reasons to be dragged through the mud because it’s one of the laziest, sloppiest things ever put to film.

If you haven’t seen it, and I hope you haven’t, you don’t understand. This is an affront to filmmaking.

At the movie’s start, god/king Osiris (Bryan Brown) passes the crown to his son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau). However, Osiris’ brother, Set (Gerard Butler) crashes the coronation with an army, kills Osiris and claims the Iron throne for himself. Though intending to kill Horus as well, the love goddess Hathor (Élodie Yung), Horus’ lover, begs for his life, so Set instead mutilates him, plucking out his eyes — the source of his power — and banishing him to the desert. The story centers around Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a mortal pickpocket who witnessed this coup. Like most mortals, he’s enslaved in Set’s reign, but his lover, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), is enslaved to Set’s chief architect, Urshu (Rufus Sewell). With plans Zaya provides, Bek steals one of Horus’ eyes, but Zaya is killed as they escape. Bek finds Horus and gives him the eye on the promise that, if Horus is able to reclaim the throne in nine days, he’ll bring Zaya back from the underworld.

I generally don’t like to point out nudity as either a positive or a negative thing in movies — if boobs are all you want to see, you should be looking at Google, not a theater screen. Movies can and, in almost all cases, do have much more to offer visually. This one doesn’t. Courtney Eaton’s breasts are genuinely the only things in this movie worth looking at — the only visually highlighted things that I don’t want to leave the screen immediately. And on some level, the movie knows it — they are very, very highlighted. Her cleavage is dead center of the screen almost every time she’s on it, and of her two costumes, this is the modest one. It’s juvenille and exploitative, but at least it’s not that awful Anubis animation.

This is possibly the ugliest movie ever made. Every frame looks like a badly botched Photoshop job. It’s easy to see what elements are digital and where they were pasted onto the screen, often because they clearly aren’t actually touching the surrounding environment. The biggest offender in this section — you have to break down the worst offenders by category, because all of these could take a run for “worst visual effect in several years” — is Set’s scarab chariot, which is lazily added to the background of two shots. The idle giant scarabs are shot from the exact same angle and make the exact same movements in each case. They don’t even come up big in the story either — he rides the chariot once as he storms Nephthys’ (Emma Booth) castle in a sequence so visually appalling it’s kept to a brief few seconds even in this movie.

Another lowlight is how the movie handles size disparity. The gods in this movie are twice as tall as mortals, and instead of using camera trickery to create that effect, they simply did it all with rear-screen projection, and some of the worst that’s ever been done at that. It is painfully obvious that the actors were shot in front of a green screen in every instance, partially because it all just looks off, partially because, once again, it’s way too easy to see that elements that should be touching really aren’t. An early shot with Horus to establish this stands out furthest, mostly because it feels like the movie is showing off, like it honestly thinks this effect is decent.

The other thing the gods do is transform into animals, and these effects are also cataclysmically bad. They look like Power Rangers villains. The worst of them is underworld god Anubis (Goran D. Kleut), who is so lazily animated they didn’t make sure his mouth was working properly, and when he speaks he looks like an anime character flapping his gums. Actually, what he really looks like is an original trilogy Star Wars puppet, the ones that were praised for their cutting-edge realism in the early 1980s. These puppets still hold up though, because they exist physically in the shot and actually move around and do things in their space — at the small trade-off of not being able to move their mouths much. Anubis’ impairment would have been similarly forgivable if he weren’t obviously a cartoon, moved onscreen even once or even existed in a physical space — he’s a bad animation projected onto another, separate, equally bad animation. He does none of these things, but is somehow still created with the verbal impairment of ’80s-era puppets. He’s probably the finest illustration of the depth of Gods of Egypt’s visual laziness.

On the left, we see 5’6 Elijah Wood, and on the right is 5’11 Ian McKellan. How does their height difference look this convincing with mere turn-of-the-century technology?

Despite the visual elements being unacceptable standing still, they somehow become even worse when the camerawork is added into the mix. The action is absolutely incomprehensible, consistent mainly of sweeping, circular takes spliced with super-closeups, often violating screen direction and disorienting the audience, almost always with continuity errors so blatant it’s easy to tell even in this visual cacophony that the movie skipped part of the fight between cuts.

Good old-fashioned camera trickery! This effect would have worked at the turn of the 20th century, let alone the 21st, and represents the kind of thinking that made the Lord of the Rings trilogy feel so alive. Gods of Egypt probably spent twice as much as this cart cost to build on every digitally put-together composite of gods and mortals onscreen together in the film, of which there are many, but this cart will always look more convincing. Photos courtesy New Line Cinema.

Somehow rivaling the movie’s visuals in artistic bankruptcy are its dramatic elements. The scene of Set’s coup feels like something straight out of WWE. Awful dialogue and poor blocking combine to choke the actors, to the point that even Butler and Geoffrey Rush — yeah, that Geoffrey Rush — can’t get decent line deliveries in.

Characterizations are a major problem in Gods of Egypt. Ancient mythology adaptations are kind of in vogue right now — this is clearly following up on the Clash of the Titans remake and its sequel, which similarly adapt Greek mythology — and all movies in this series bend their source material over backward to force its characters into analogues with Judeo-Christian mythology, a very sad thing to see since pantheons are so much more interesting. In Gods of Egypt, Horus is turned into a weird sort of god/Christ figure, to whom Zaya prays exclusively despite her plight, something for which the film rewards her. Run-of-the-mill Christian themes also play heavily into her’s and Bek’s relationship, which is portrayed as able to bend reality with the power of true love.

Beyond the… Christian-washing, I guess, there are more problems with these characters, particularly Hathor. Hathor is a ho, there’s really no other description of it. She uses her sexuality to try to manipulate other characters, not out of any sort of necessity but as a default action, for fun or for spite if for no other reason, and speaks at length of her disdain for the people she controls. Which is kind of weird, since she doesn’t actually control anyone in the movie, undermining any redeeming factor she may have had. She is less a character and more a device for a couple of Deus Ex Machina saves and for the movie to make fun of women.

While the horrible lines might make this a decent so-bad-it’s-good comedy, the movie takes even that away from its audience when Horus’ and Bek’s relationship quickly devolves into wisecracks and puns, making laughter a reaction that would validate the movie.

Director/producer Alex Proyas went off on film critics last weekend as Gods of Egypt, just his fifth feature film in a more-than 20 year career, opened to second place and only a tenth of its $140 million budget, and his presence at the helm of this disaster is kind of a shock. Proyas was the man behind cult classic The Crow, the criminally underrated Dark City and I, Robot — and Knowing, but let’s keep this civil. His anger indicates that he actually thinks Gods of Egypt is a passable movie, and maybe there really is some grand design too complex for mere Earthlings to see, but if so, why put it in a movie seemingly meant for them?

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. We need to talk about how good I look right now. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

I rest my case.

 

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