2016 - 127 minutes
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless
Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Chadwick Boseman, Elodie Yung, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush
Gods of Egypt is an ungodly mess, and nearly a beautiful one. It’s too bloated and convoluted to truly be escapist fun, but the sheer audacity of the filmmaking is admirable. Problems go much deeper than casting a Dane, a Scotsman, and a couple Aussies as larger than life Egyptian gods, though that’s not a very good look, and also unfortunately timed with the homogenous nominations of this weekend’s Academy Awards.
However, the film isn’t likely to cause too much outrage beyond supporting evidence in Oscar anger for a couple reasons: tracking numbers suggest not many people will see it and the actual film isn’t at all interested in historical accuracy, with disregard for culture going much more than skin deep. Comparatively speaking, Gods of Egypt makes the recent Clash of the Titans and its sequel look like a PBS documentary on Greek history.
In director Alex Proyas’ batty Egypt gods walk among the mortals they rule, except they’re towering giants who bleed gold instead of blood. Some of them can transfigure into metallic flying creatures, some sprout wings without turning metallic, others morph into some sort of man/beast hybrid, and some don’t change into anything. It’s kind of cool, but there’s no real use or reason for any of it until the plot requires the gods use their skills to fight each other.
Anyway, god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is ready to inherit the kingship from his father, when his uncle Set (Gerard Butler) returns from isolation in the desert and stages a coup to take the crown by force. Horus is left blinded, his all-seeing eyes plucked out, and exiled as Set seeks to destroy the other gods and consolidate power for himself. Meanwhile, mortal Egyptian Bek (Brenton Thwaites, an Aussie), has a murky plan to steal Horus’ eyes and return them to the god so he can fight to reclaim the throne. The mission is made more urgent when Bek’s beloved Zaya (Courtney Eaton, also Aussie) is murdered. Bek and Horus team up, fighting to save Egypt from destruction and rescue Zaya from purgatory.
Pretty much what follows is the duo walking around a lot, occasionally fighting with various CGI monsters and running away from crumbling columns and other falling shards of Egyptian architecture. The journey gets repetitive fairly quickly, and the immediate goal is always shifting, which is too bad because there are some goofy pleasures to enjoy if there weren’t so much nebulous plotting surrounding them.
Gods of Egypt is stuck somewhere between swashbuckling romp and sweeping CGI epic, with the heroes quipping like Indiana Jones one minute and lamenting lost loves and lost civilizations the next. The screenplay from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless invents obstacles, new goals, and new rules of the world when convenient, seemingly in an attempt to squeeze in every wacky idea possible.
Some of those ideas are promising. Ra (an appropriately hammy Geoffrey Rush) is all-powerful, but burdened to fend off a world-eating creature every night as he literally pulls the sun around the Earth. An Earth that is shown as a flat rock floating through space. Set’s chariot with golden scorpion tails being pulled by giant flying beetles is pretty nifty. This kind of crazy inventiveness is stifled by gobbledygook like “waters of creation,” magic bracelets that fend off the demons of the afterlife, and stages of the quest that are unnecessarily drawn out.
Much time is devoted to solving the riddle of the Sphynx – another piece of iconography that had be squeezed in, including the assistance of wise god Thoth (Chadwick Boseman, using a strange and completely implacable accent), but in the long run, as with most of the narrative devices, it means nothing in the grand scheme. Really all that had to happen here was Horus transforming into his winged alter-ego and flying back to Set’s temple so they could fight it out.
With some trimming of the elaborate mythology and a streamlining of the quest, Gods of Egypt could’ve been some sort of fascinating weirdness to embrace, but it’s eccentricities are just too overfed to fully recommend.