What has happened to Alex Proyas? It is hard to reconcile the fact that the Australian director who began his career with a couple of highly unique, atmospheric, visionary films in The Crow and Dark City is the same person responsible for this overblown, poorly executed, excruciating mess of a movie. Whilst, Gods of Egypt arrives in cinemas laden with pre-release controversy around the casting of predominantly white actors in the various roles, there really are far bigger problems at play here, not the least of which is a banal screenplay laden with clichés and silly dialogue, an inconsistent tone and a distinct lack of clarity. The performances are, for the most part, uninspired with Brenton Thwaites and Gerard Butler particularly disappointing. Although, having said that, I’m not sure Butler has been good in anything, so his ham-fisted effort as Egyptian god Set – complete with Scottish accent – comes as no real surprise.
Unfolding in a time when Egyptian gods (apparently) ruled Earth, the film opens at the coronation of Horus (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who has been ordained to take over as ruler of the kingdom from his father Osiris (Bryan Brown), a seemingly benevolent and popular leader. However, Osiris’ brother Set arrives on cue before the handover is completed and, with all the bluster than Butler can muster, he promptly declares himself the most worthy to lead the kingdom, kills Osiris and then defeats Horus in a duel, ripping his eyes out for good measure. With Horus forced into exile, the previously peaceful kingdom is thrown into chaos as the merciless Set takes control. The future of the kingdom rests with Bek (Thwaites), a petty thief who, like the rest of mortal population, has been put to work as a slave. Despite possessing no personality whatsoever, Bek has somehow caught the attention of Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and together they hatch a plan. Under the nose of Set’s sidekick Urshu (Rufus Sewell), Bek breaks into the booby-trapped vault and steals back one of Horus’ eyes (I kid you not). Now sporting a sexy eye-patch, Horus vows to enact revenge against Set and claim his rightful title, drawing on advice/assistance from granddaddy Ra, the sun god played by a slumming Geoffrey Rush, who seems to relish the ridiculousness of it all and hams it up to the max.
From the opening moments when we sweep over the streets and rooftops, the CGI is unconvincing and that is a real problem when so much of the film relies on this technology. There are plenty of action sequences, but a distinct lack of suspense, which is largely due to the fact that so much of it looks so obviously staged on a green screen, makes it a struggle to remain engaged. There is potential in the sheer nonsense of it all for this to play as a parody of these mythological epics and certainly Chadwick Boseman as the haughty, bitchy Thoth – the god of wisdom – gives it his best shot. Everybody else though, with the exception of Rush, plays it too straight, which only serves to highlight the sheer ludicrousness of everything that transpires. It is hard to know whether Butler is just not trying very hard or whether he is simply incapable of instilling Set with any nuance, but this is a one-dimensional character whose fate is a foregone conclusion.
Filmed in Australia, perhaps the only redeeming feature of this mess is the employment opportunities for local cast and crew. The likes of Rachael Blake, Emma Booth, Bruce Spence and Robyn Nevin feature, although I’m not sure any of them would want to include this on their résumé. Born in Egypt, Proyas obviously has a connection to the material, but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to bring this mythology to the screen in a coherent, interesting way. It may well be true that, as Proyas claims, some critics have lambasted the film without having watched it and he has every reason to be angry if that is the case. But the reality is that, other than some of the costume design, Gods of Egypt is, pardon the pun, god-awful.