Alex Proyas’ ungodly 3D spectacle, “Gods of Egypt”, couldn’t possibly be coming out at a worse time, but at least the director and Lionsgate recognized and acknowledged it. With diversity in Hollywood, or the lack thereof, the current hot topic, the film arrives with a white-washed cast full of Aussies, Scots, and other decidedly non-Egyptian folk playing the titular deities. You know it’s bad when apologies are being dished out weeks in advance, with Proyas calling the entire casting process “complicated”, because it’s apparently really hard to find someone brown to play an armor-suited deity who fires laser beams. It’s possible he was doing other races a favor by keeping them far away from this grandiose fiasco, but he’ll owe another apology to anyone roped into sitting through it.
Like with Ridley Scott’s equally melanin-free “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, an epic disaster by any measure, “Gods of Egypt” eventually becomes so laughably terrible that you forget about the lack of diversity. From the ropey visual effects to Proyas’ need to try and dazzle us with them at every turn, perhaps to distract from the characters we don’t care about, very little about the film works at all. And what’s sad is there’s potential here for a cheesy fun mythological adventure, but Proyas only seems to recognize that part of the time, while only two members of his cast get it at all.
A clunky voice-over introduces us to Proyas’ land of green screen deserts and stone pyramids. Gerard Butler is Set, the war-like Egyptian god of darkness who returns home just as his nephew Horus (“Game of Thrones”‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is about to be made king by his father, Osiris (Bryan Brown). When Set dispatches with his brother Osiris, Horus tries to fight back, with both gods transforming into giant golden creatures while the people watch in horror. They have no idea. Set gets the upper hand and plucks out Horus’ all-seeing eyes, banishing him into exile and claiming rule over the land. Good thing there’s a plucky human hero, Bek (played by the deeply unlikable Brenton Thwaites), a thief who prefers not to worship the gods (foolish since they literally walk among men) but trusts in his love for the beautiful Zaya (Courtney Eaton). When she’s killed after one of Bek’s schemes goes wrong, he teams up with Horus to stop Seth’s reign and hopefully bring Zaya back to the land of the living.
When given the chance to put his fingerprints on a project, Proyas has proven one of today’s great genre filmmakers. “The Crow”, “Dark City”, and even “I, Robot” are sterling examples of the mesmeric world-building he’s capable of, but “Gods of Egypt” is so thick with CGI that nothing has any pulse. It’s all so stagnant and stale; colorful and grand to be sure, but there’s nothing substantive behind any of it. Watching Beck and Horus trek through digital deserts or fly to CGI space stations (where Geoffrey Rush chews up scenery as the sun god, Ra) has no thrill whatsoever. Maybe the sensation of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”‘ welcome reliance on practical effects has yet to wear off, but Proyas’ overuse of CGI is almost offensive. This would have been a better film if he were able to give it some personality.
Most of the characters could use a personality injection, as well. Thwaites may have an angel face but he’s been awful in “Maleficent”, “The Giver”, and now this. He doesn’t seem capable of connecting with any of his stars, much less the audience. Coster-Waldau is basically channeling his Jamie Lannister role from “Game of Thrones”; chosen son who is weakened by a grave injury. Butler is perfectly at home growling through this just as he did in “300”, and at times it seems he’s holding back a mighty “This is SPARTA!!!!”, which would have been the most awesome thing he could have done. Elodie Yung (Elektra in the second season of “Daredevil”) has the right sex appeal as Hathor, the goddess of love; while Chadwick Boseman hilariously over-acts as the wizened god, Thoth. The only ones who seem to get what a campy mess they’re in are Rush, who spends the entire movie jousting with a space chaos worm or something, and Proyas’ “Dark City” star, Rufus Sewell. Sewell plays Egypt’s “master builder” and a sniveling toady for Set. It’s the perfect part for him, and seeing him is enough of a reminder of how good he and Proyas used to be, and just how far “Gods of Egypt” is beneath them both.