Gods of Egypt is so ridiculous that I wish they would have just gone all the way with it. I’m not entirely sure what “all the way” with it means in this context. Making it a fully animated movie? Performing the whole thing while standing on their hands? Letting Tommy Wiseau direct? Converting it to hard-core pornography? The project has so much potential for batshit lunacy; it’s a massive bummer that the movie never truly embraces it. This is a movie in which gods turn into flying robots who shoot lasers out of their faces. A movie like that should embrace its stupidity, should laugh and dance and scream like a lunatic. But Gods of Egypt is a ponderous bore, which is simply baffling. What movie did they think they were making? They didn’t really think this was serious, did they?
Much has been made of the casting of white actors in the primary roles in a film about ancient Egypt, but frankly, the movie is so full of shoddy CGI that they could have cast mostly squirrels and few would have noticed. The movie is a battle between two gods: Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a winged beast with perfect vision, or something, and his uncle Set (Gerard Butler), a power-mad god willing to destroy the entire world in order to consolidate his dominance. (Again: “or something.”) Assisting Horus is a very blonde, very boring mortal named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who is trying to bring his lover Zaya (Courtney Eaton) back to life, and a genius named Thoth, played by the extremely talented Chadwick Boseman, who will be starring as Black Panther in the upcoming Ryan Coogler-directed Marvel movie and will be working very hard soon, I suspect, to make you forget he was ever in this movie. All these characters interact for a while, and then someone turns into a flying Sphinx robot and the laser-shooting begins again.
Director Alex Proyas, who once made visually inventive films like Dark City and The Crow, is working solely in the field of empty CGI here, and he’s clearly not comfortable with the form. The movie has none of the atmosphere of his earlier films and, more than anything, looks cheaply produced and conceived. Some of the computer effects are so shoddy and slapdash that I found myself looking for the cursor. God of Egypt wants to be a swords-and-sandals epic that can upshift into a Transformers movie when it needs to, but the movie is so roughshod and anemic that it barely wrestles up the energy to be either. The movie leaps from location to location, from the desert of Egypt to vast recesses of outer space, but you won’t convince me it doesn’t all take place on the same soundstage, with actors pretending to react to a series of dragons and robot dragons and robot snake dragon things. It looks so artificial that you wonder why they didn’t just make the whole thing a cartoon, except there’s so little pride in the animation work that the main character would probably end up just looking like the Xifaxan mascot from the Super Bowl. That might be sort of fun, actually.
In an alternate universe, the cast would be going nuts camping it up, but the only person who’s gotten the memo is Geoffrey Rush, who plays the sun god Ra as if he is constantly being tased. Everyone else is mostly sleepy. Coster-Waldau seems to have the light-comedy chops to maybe turn his Horus into a reluctant hero Han Solo lite-lite-lite-lite-LITE type, but the movie keeps steering him into blander territory. Brenton Thwaites, as the “crafty” human, is carved together out of old mummified Wonder Bread; imagine Harry Hamlin from Clash of the Titans, but less dynamic. And the role of the bad guy, the insane person trying to destroy the world, is supposed to go to the loopy one, the scenery-chewing, teeth-gnashing one. But Gerard Butler looks like he just wants to get out of here, strutting and posing occasionally but mostly just trying to keep his accent straight, with limited success. This whole movie is cast with Sam Worthingtons.
There’s nothing here you can’t get from other, better movies, and here it’s all chopped to bits and mixed together in a sloppy, PG-13, generic stew. There was a time that Proyas was considered a legitimate artist in this sort of field—Roger Ebert called Dark City “one of the great modern films”—but he brings little to the table here except a discomfort with anything involving human speech patterns. It’s obvious from the first frame that no one was enjoying themselves making this movie, and if they’re not having fun, it’s unreasonable to expect any of the rest of us to. Maybe they didn’t have to go All The Way with this one. But they did at least need to try. Gods of Egypt is a movie that requires more effort to sit through than it did to make it.
For a debate on the Academy Awards, listen to the latest episode of the Grierson and Leitch podcast: