According to hieroglyphic evidence, there was cheese in Egypt 5,000 years ago. So at least there’s some historical precedent for the funky, overripe 3-D folly, Gods of Egypt – a shoddy special-effects howler that makes a hash out of both Egyptian mythology and human logic.
Set in a glittering storybook past when the mighty gods lived alongside mortals, the story kicks off with a heavy nod to Aladdin as our resourceful young ragamuffin hero, Bek (The Giver’s Brenton Thwaites), shoplifts a cleavage-revealing dress in the crowded local bazaar for his dewy-eyed love, Zaya (Mad Max: Fury Road’s Courtney Eaton). But despite their budding romance, all is not copacetic along the Nile. Egypt is in crisis. The rival sibling deities, Osiris (Bryan Brown) and Set (Gerard Butler), are feuding over the coronation of Osiris’ strapping son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the new God of Gods. Before Horus can take the throne, though, the jealous Set kills Osiris, plucks Horus’ eyes out, and sends him into exile, wresting power for himself and unleashing a ruthless reign of terror. But what about our young lovers, you ask? Fate separates them, of course, as Zaya is mortally wounded and left hanging in a shadowy underworld limbo, waiting for Bek to man up and rescue her. But he’ll need Horus’ help to save her. Cue the mismatched sword-and-sandal buddy-flick music.
Because it’s directed by Alex Proyas, Gods of Egypt shouldn’t be half as silly and flat as it is. Until now, I’d always been a Proyas believer (and sometimes apologist) who connected with his dark, moody visual style. The Crow (1994) was a good movie. Dark City (1998) was a really good movie. And Knowing was a totally solid entry in Nicolas Cage’s undiscriminating baroque period. But you would never know that Gods of Egypt was made by the same filmmaker. There’s no pulse beating within it. It’s razzle-dazzle hackwork that’s too tin-eared and dumb for adults and too long and tedious for kids. It’s also just plain bonkers. Aside from a flying chariot drawn by gigantic winged beetles, one of the movie’s signature visual gags is presenting the gods as super-sized giants with the mortals looking like Lilliputians next to them. An optical trick like this worked well enough with the pint-size Hobbits in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, but it doesn’t quite work here. Watching a towering, bare-chested Coster-Waldau traipsing through the desert next to the puny Thwaites, I couldn’t stop thinking about that old Gilligan’s Island episode where Gilligan plays Jack and the Beanstalk doing sped-up figure-eights through the humongous legs of the lumbering Skipper’s Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum Giant.
I think the tone that Proyas & Co. were aiming for here is the one that made the original Clash of the Titans such a nostalgic Saturday afternoon touchstone for so many fortysomething movie lovers: a knowingly hammy illustrated history lesson served with a pinch of romance, a dollop of swashbuckling adventure, and a sprinkling of scary-but-not-too-scary villainy. But Gods of Egypt is neither good enough nor bad enough to qualify as a so-bad-it’s-good guilty pleasure. It’s just there, pounding you in the face with a cudgel of disposable mediocrity and schlocky videogame-grade CGI.
Butler is all bearded brawn and beefcake, bellowing his wooden lines with a ripsnorting Scottish burr that couldn’t smack less of the Middle East. Coster-Waldau tries to lighten things up with some sarcasm, but nearly pulls a muscle winking at the camera so hard. Thwaites is utterly generic. Chadwick Boseman turns the God of Knowledge, Thoth, into a bitchy, eye-rolling pill. And Geoffrey Rush (with a mottled bald-cap and a sun-bolt staff) does exactly what you expect an Oscar winner to do in a film like this: go big (at least until the check clears) and then go home. The female characters are too swept aside and thinly drawn to even bother commenting on – which come to think of it, is probably the most historically accurate thing in the movie. Honestly, you can learn more about the ancient world from the cover of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album than in Gods of Egypt – a wannabe blockbuster whose biggest sin is that it’s just not very fun. Honestly, the best that can be said about the movie is that at least it’s in focus. D