Ancient Egypt – a land of pyramids, colossal statues and unconvincing scorpions. Did you know that, in the time of the pharoahs, gods lived among ordinary mortals and could transform into huge, fire-spouting robots? Director Alex Proyas’ Gods Of Egypt may have been demolished by critics when it appeared in the US earlier this year, but it’s certainly educational.
Proyas previously brought us such dark and moody delights as The Crow and Dark City, but Gods Of Egypt is completely unlike anything he’s made before. It’s big, it’s camp, it’s awash with CGI which varies in quality from shot to shot. In style and tone, it belongs in that same odd category of action fantasy films as Louis Leterrier’s Clash Of The Titans or Tarsem Singh’s Immortals. Put it this way: unless you’re planning to break into Fort Knox, you’ll never see this much gold flash past your eyes again.
The drama begins when the god of darkness Set (Gerard Butler) deposes god of the air Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), plucks out his eyes (which resemble big glowing marbles) and takes over Egypt. Left bandaged and sulking in a temple, Horus is coaxed out of his misery by a young rogue, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who’s managed to steal one of Horus’ lost eyes from its hiding place. So begins a long and meandering adventure which takes in lost loves (Elodie Yung’s Hathor and Courtney Eaton’s Zaya), fights with CGI monsters and visits to the homes of eccentric gods (Chadwick Boseman’s theatrical god of knowledge, Thoth). The mission: get rid of Set and save Egypt from his glowering madness.
Suspension of disbelief doesn’t really apply in a film that asks us to accept that Gerard Butler, screaming and shouting in his Scottish accent, is an Egyptian god, or that features Elektra out of Daredevil riding around in a carriage held aloft by what appear to be a flock of pigeons. No matter how belligerently Butler acts (which is very, if you hadn’t guessed) or how earnestly Coster-Waldau recites his stiff dialogue, it’s difficult to become immersed in a film with so many distractions. The production design, casting and visual effects in Gods Of Egypt constantly demand questions rather than acceptance. Is that really Bryan Brown under that funny hat? Crikey, it is. I don’t remember seeing him in anything since F/X2. Look, Gerard Butler’s riding around in a chariot pulled along by massive dung beetles. Maybe horses hadn’t been invented yet. I think that’s Geoffrey Rush wearing that flowing gown. God, he’s a great actor. Remember when he played the Marquis de Sade? Quills was such an underrated film…
Before you know it, the first act’s over and you’re not really even sure what’s going on any more. Some of the images in Gods Of Egypt are so strange that they cross an invisible boundary into CGI abstract art. Geoffrey Rush’s house is a big boat surfing around on a sea of fire above a flat, spinning Earth. There are armies of soldiers with red masks who fend off their enemies with circular mirrors as shields. It’s all very, very strange.
To a certain extent, there’s something disarming and pleasing about that strangeness. Yes, those who’ve taken the film to task for its white-washing of a North African civilisation have a perfectly valid point. Yes, the CGI action’s floaty and rote. Compared to Captain America: Civil War, Gods Of Egypt looks positively quaint, like one of those adventure films Doug McClure used to make in the 70s. But therein lies the movie’s appeal: taken as B-grade schlock – which is clearly what it’s intended to be – Gods Of Egypt has lots to marvel and gawp at, often in bemusement or disbelief. The supporting cast’s great value, too, particularly Rufus Sewell, who keeps finding himself in things like this – see also Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson – and brightens every scene he’s in. He plays an architect who also happens to be really good at archery.
Gods Of Egypt’s major flaw is its running time, which at 127 minutes feels not so much epic in the Cecil B DeMille sense as simply laboured. That Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent) makes a somewhat flat lead doesn’t help, nor does the plot, which plods without much clear direction.
With all of this going against it, Gods Of Egypt looks rather awkward when stacked up against the other multi-million-dollar entertainments in cinemas this summer. And if you want a fantasy movie that’s quirky, intelligent and beautifully made, Matteo Garrone’s Tale Of Tales is waiting for you with a twinkle of mischief in its eye. But even having written all this, Gods Of Egypt has enough ramshackle, demented imagination bubbling away to make it just about worth seeing. With its skimpy outfits, baroque monsters and odd one-liners, it could just wind up becoming this generation’s Starcrash – a film best enjoyed with friends, snacks and a generous quantity of beer.
Gods Of Egypt is out in UK cinemas now.