Whatever happened to director Alex Proyas? At the end of the nineties he seemed to be a very promising filmmaker destined for potentially great things. The Crow was a visually striking breakthrough film, though admittedly one I probably wouldn’t quite care for so much now than I did as a teenager, but his sophomore effort Dark City was an excellent slice of sci-fi noir that garnered deservedly rave reviews. He moved into the big leagues after little-seen Australian indie Garage Days in 2004 with the middling I, Robot, but since then has only managed to produce one film per dozen years, first the silly and forgettable Nicolas Cage apocalypse movie Knowing in 2009, and now we have the disaster that is Gods of Egypt.
Gods of Egypt is one of those films that, despite looking completely awful, I still hoped would at least be a bit of fun to watch. Partially because Proyas is someone I did think capable of delivering a decent movie, but also because it’s one of the only non-franchise blockbusters we’re likely to see this year. The film is very, very loosely based on Egyptian mythology, involving various Gods coming down to live among, and rule over humans in a fantasised version of ancient Egypt. The world they inhabit has only retained the most notable landmarks of Egypt, and the film has already gained some controversy for not being populated with actual Egyptians. It’s probably worth mentioning though that this is not trying in any way to resemble the real world, the earth is even depicted as a flat disc. The Gods appear considerably larger than humans do too, leading to an off-putting visual imbalance when they’re seen directly interacting.
No stranger to historical fantasy, Gerard Butler plays Set, brother of the King Osiris (Bryan Brown). In a slight change for him, Butler is playing the villain, murdering his brother and taking control just as Osiris was about to coronate his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the new King. Butler employs a lot of his gruff shouting as he rules with an iron fist, but his work here is only noteworthy for the fact that he, quite amusingly, makes no apparent attempt whatsoever to disguise his thick Scottish accent, while the rest of the (primarily Australian) cast tend to go for broader non-specific ones.
Although most of the film’s main characters are Gods, the protagonist is not, a young man named Bek (Brenton Twaites) narrates the piece. He’s got a knack for thievery but his main interest is a girl called Zaya (Courtney Eaton), who’s now working in the palace. They take it upon themselves to try and overthrow Set, who’s tyrannically enslaved the population and commanded they build a giant tower to Ra. With Zaya’s help, Bek attempts to steal back the exiled Horus’ eyes in order to allow him to challenge Set once more.
Brenton Twaites is an actor I’d originally thought of as one of the many forgettable, blandly handsome young men who populate a number of Hollywood movies without ever leaving much impression at all. He appeared in 5 films in 2014, not that I could have recalled him in all of them without having to look that up. In this film though, I almost wished he’d just been bland and forgettable. Instead he’s stupendously annoying, bringing a smarmy arrogance to every scene he’s in, even when he’s clearly working towards an honourable goal, I found myself wishing Horus would just shut him up for good.
In fairness, the blame doesn’t lie entirely with Twaites. The script by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, whose previous work includes Dracula Untold, and The Last Witch Hunter which should have probably been a warning sign, is constantly filled with the most awful dialogue that left me wondering how the actors must have felt having to say it take after take. Even veteran performers such as Geoffrey Rush, who plays a bald, white-robed Ra floating above earth on some kind of space boat, battling a giant, multi-toothed worm monster with a fire shooting staff comes across as deeply silly. And no, that sequence is not in any way as awesome as it might have sounded there. The only actor to retain some dignity is Chadwick Boseman, who gets a few of the film’s more entertaining moments as God of Knowledge Thoth in an important third-act sequence.
Make no mistake, this film is totally ridiculous and for the most part, appears to know that it is. There are a number of big set-pieces involving chases, traps, huge monsters and deities battling in ‘God form’ that could, and should be a lot more enjoyable than they are on screen. A lot of this boils down to them being so reliant on masses of overbearing CGI, there are even a few shots that I wonder if any live-action element was present. Proyas’s attempts to bring in some sweeping establishing shots over the landscape are also neutered by the obvious artificiality of what’s onscreen.
God’s of Egypt was in all likelihood, always going to turn out to be a deeply stupid movie, but it could surely have found a bit more enjoyment in all the over-the-top absurdity onscreen. As it is, it’s just plain bad, a tedious slog whose predictable cheat of a conclusion doesn’t come soon enough. Alex Proyas looks to be in serious need of some career rehabilitation.