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Front Page - Friday, March 4, 2016

‘Gods of Egypt’ is god-awful

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

Occasionally, I’ll see a bad movie and marvel over the appalling execution of what seemed like a good idea. “It sounded good on paper,” I’ll think. “Gods of Egypt,” a fantasy film featuring Ancient Egyptian deities, gets no such pass. It’s every bit as awful as it sounds.

The storyline must have appealed to someone, though, because that’s the only way a monstrosity like this gets made. The film stars Gerard Butler as the god of darkness, Set, who takes over Egypt by force. Brenton Thwaites (I’d never heard of him, either) plays the moral hero, Bek, who partners with the god Horus to save the world.

I’ll take aim at the movie’s visuals first, since that’s the easiest target. Clearly, a lot of artistry was poured into the look of “Gods of Egypt.” If you were to see a still of some of the film’s scenery or one of its action scenes, you’d think it was an attractive movie. For example: Set can transform into a golden Anubis-like being with bright, golden wings; the camera often sweeps through vast cities and countrysides; and there’s a scene in which the god Ra battles a giant worm as he pulls the sun across the sky in a solar barge. However, problems arise when these images are set in motion.

Rather than looking like a smoothly animated fantasy pic in which the live action and the computer animated parts were seamlessly blended, much of “Gods of Egypt” looks like a badly animated video game cinematic. When transformed into their divine form, the gods move stiffly and unconvincingly. Also, many of the background elements look terribly out of focus, which makes the foreground elements stick out like fresh pimples. A few of the action scenes are a blurry mess as a result. I never once got the feeling that the actors were standing on a real set. Rather, the whole thing appears to have been built on poorly executed digital artifice.

It’s no wonder, then, that the actors seem to wander through the film looking lost. Butler must have been told he was making a sequel to “300,” as he does his best impression of an angry barbarian, but his performance falls flat. Instead of giving his character a unique, twisted flair, he just grimaces and spouts his lines in his familiar Scottish brogue, which must have been a neat trick in Ancient Egypt. Worse, the scenes between the actors who play Bek and his girlfriend hew dangerously close to the painfully awkward exchanges between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the “Star Wars” prequels.

The makers of this mottled mess also strike an odd tone. “Gods of Egypt” is packed with fantasy tropes ranging from strange creatures, to quests for bizarre objects that have special powers, to the dead rarely staying that way. To avoid being seen as taking this material too seriously, director Alex Proyas and company tried to strike a light-hearted tone, but instead struck a goofy one. Director Peter Jackson did a better job of making the outlandish believable in the “Lord of the Rings” films. Proyas tries too hard, and in the process, shows his hand. It’s as though he’s trying to say, “We know this is worm fodder, but see how much fun we’re having?”

I’m glad he had fun. I didn’t. Instead, I sat in my seat and wondered how this film got made. Who in their right mind would green light such a bad idea and then spend $140 million turning it into a movie? Someone who thought it sounded good on paper, I guess.

One star out of four. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality.

David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.