Thanks to the success of films like 300 and Clash of the Titans, every studio has been scrambling to latch onto their coattails with their own action-filled fantasy epics, which has ultimately led to diminishing returns for the weaker sequels to those films and obvious rip-offs like Immortals. Gods of Egypt may be arriving far too late to even be in the conversation with the latter.
The film’s prologue introduces us to the title characters: feuding brothers Set (Gerard Butler) and Osiris (Bryan Brown), explaining how the Egyptian gods are living amongst the mortals, towering above them in a visual that’s hard not to laugh at when you first see two different-sized people intermingling. Osiris is about to crown his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the king of Egypt when Set shows up with an army to usurp the crown, killing Osiris, blinding Horus, and declaring war on the other gods in order to gain their power as well.
In the meantime, a mortal thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t have much in terms of wealth but he does have a great love for Zaya (Courtney Eaton), who ends up serving Set’s greedy master architect Urshu (Rufus Sewell) in the aftermath of Osiris’ demise. After Bek breaks into Set’s vault and recovers one of Horus’ eyes, he makes a deal with the now-cycloptic deity to work together and stop Set’s reign.
There’s a clear danger that the film’s plot could derail things by being more complicated and overly convoluted than it needs to be, especially for a movie that should be all about the action, but somehow it finds its footing after a problematic opening.
Fans of Proyas’ Dark City that have been waiting patiently for the Australian filmmaker to make something on par with that noirish thriller will just have to keep waiting. Despite the larger budget given to Proyas—and to Lionsgate’s credit, they actually found a filmmaker born in Egypt to direct their Egyptian epic—Gods of Egypt often becomes overpowered by its attempt to create something so epic in scale that it makes it hard to appreciate its characters.
Gods of Egypt is indeed a huge CG spectacle coming out at a time when audiences are becoming more in tune with how much more organic films look when things are done practically on set. And in Proyas’ defense, the CGI and human characters merge well enough, except for the scenes where it’s obvious everything on screen was done in a computer, and it feels like you’re watching a video game cutscene without the ability to interact with what’s happening.
The gods in their metallic creature-form are one of the places where the film’s FX work fails, especially when they’re talking to each other instead of fighting. It’s fairly evident that using performance capture might have helped in that regard. At times, Proyas seems to be offering a throwback to the primitive yet organic Harryhausen-animated epics, but it’s doubtful modern audiences today will appreciate the reference or the effort.
Despite the silliness of the concept and visuals, it’s easy to adjust as the film goes along. And the only reason the film even remotely works is that it keeps things light and doesn’t take itself too seriously, essentially turning into a buddy road comedy with Horus and Bek on a quest to find Horus’ other eye so they can stop Set. In that sense, Coster-Waldau, one of the more popular stars of Game of Thrones, and Thwaites make for quite an entertaining onscreen duo that often make up for their film’s problems. Similarly, the lovely Elodie Yung is quite charismatic as Hathor, the Goddess of Love, who convinces Set to spare Horus by going off with him.
The film gets even more fun when the group arrive at the domain of Thoth, the egotistical God of Wisdom played by Chadwick Boseman, allowing for a funny exchange as they try to figure out how to surpass the riddle of the Sphinx guarding Set’s safehold.
Other things are likely to leave you scratching your head, most notably the awful performance by Gerard Butler, who hams his way through every scene. If it isn’t obvious enough that Gods of Egypt is trying to be 300, casting Butler drives that point home. In one of Set’s battles with Horus, the latter even exclaims, “This is madness!” and as we all know from 300, you never should say that to Gerard Butler.
Even more vexing is Geoffrey Rush’s role as the Sun God Ra, played way too earnestly compared to others, which just makes it more ridiculous when the 64-year-old actor transforms into his CG-enhanced incarnation. (Fortunately, the choice of non-Egyptian actors isn’t as problematic as it was with Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, since there’s a lot of diversity within the ethnicities of the various gods.)
Gods of Egypt may not be the best introduction or primer to Egyptian mythology, but the obvious problems aside, it acts as fun, escapist fare that younger kids might enjoy. Older action fans may be more skeptical, and rightfully so, but they might have fun as long as they remember not to take things too seriously.
Gods of Egypt opens on Friday, Feb. 26 (with previews on Thursday night).