'Gods of Egypt'
Alex Proyas’ career started so well. Things kicked off with the stylistically iconic (if deeply tragic) ‘The Crow’ and then Proyas seemed to find depth to match his style with the delightful mindfuck ‘Dark City’. After that, it’s been a series of mind-numbing choices that make the filmmaker increasingly difficult to defend. Now we have ‘Gods of Egypt’, an action epic set in a world of warring deities and desert kingdoms.
It’s certainly a feast for the eyes that proves Proyas has lost none of his visual skills. Sadly, beyond that orgy of colors and caverns and violence (all in 3D!), there’s very little here. It’s a pretty empty tale marred by horrible miscasting and is difficult to take seriously. Pretty though the pictures might be, it’s tough to maintain interest throughout the eye-gouging running time.
Things start off promisingly when Set (Gerard Butler, the screamiest of semi-movie stars) shows up at his nephew Horus’ (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) crowning ceremony to become king of Egypt. They’re both gods and therefore slightly larger than humans thanks to a little CGI augmentation. It’s a fun family reunion until Set reveals it’s a ruse, kills his brother, rips out Horus’ super-powered eyeballs, steals the crown, and becomes the evil ruler of Egypt. Ain’t that a B?!
It’s a pretty striking opening until Set and Horus turn into big, silly metallic CGI animals to finish off their battle, at which point the movie dives headfirst into Stupid Land and never returns. From there, Benton Thwaites is introduced as Bek, a noble peasant hero whose wise girlfriend (Courtney Eaton) convinces him to steal back Horus’ eyes in the hopes he’ll reclaim his thrown. He gets the eyes (well, one of them), but the girlfriend dies. So Bek makes a pact with Horus to help him if he’ll bring his beloved back to life. Yadda, yadda, yadda, there’s a quest and a bunch of fights and Geoffrey Rush pops up as Ra to shoot fire from the sky. It’s all pretty stupid.
Presumably, Proyas initially envisioned ‘Gods of Egypt’ as a throwback to the old Ray Harryhausen fantasy adventures of his youth, only with the twist of setting the tale within the underexplored world of Egyptian mythology. Fair enough. It’s not a bad idea. Unfortunately, whatever that initial idea may have been was watered down to make the movie as similar to recently successful properties as possible. There’s a little ‘Lord of the Rings’ here a little ‘Game of Thrones’ there, a bunch of ‘God of War’ in the corner and then a touch of gobbledygook resembling the initial concept of the movie pasted on top of the rest. It’s ultimately a very simple tale of good vs. evil that gets lost in a swell of influences and rip-offs of other properties that ultimately can’t stand on its own as a piece of storytelling.
Granted, Proyas design work is as impressive as always. The world is distinct on a visual level and whenever actual sets and costumes are employed, it can look rather pretty. However, the realities of modern tentpole film production mean that most of the movie was created through CGI. Those effects vary wildly from impressive spectacle to sequences that look like cut-scenes from cheap videogames.
The actors appear lost. They’re stuck in embarrassingly revealing costumes ranting impossibly florid dialogue against a green screens and rarely deliver anything resembling decent acting. It’s mostly a bunch of flailing and yelling in a futile attempt to stand out from the cartoon world around them. Even the dependable Geoffrey Rush seems to be acting in a daze, though to be fair he has a thankless task of babbling a bunch of histrionic speeches before shooting fire out of a stick at an evil black space cloud. It ain’t exactly Shakespeare.
To top it all off, the overwhelmingly white and predominantly Australian cast is very inappropriate for a tale set in a mythological ancient Egypt. Given that the movie is hitting screens right in the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, that’s not exactly going to put any asses in seats.
Sadly, this is yet another underwhelming effort from Alex Proyas, who once seemed to be a visionary after the rather brilliant ‘Dark City’. These days, he has apparently given up any attempt to tell a decent story or create memorable characters in favor of getting to use the most expensive toys in service of cinematic spectacle. Admittedly, at times his stylistic flourishes transcend the silly story with some gorgeously designed creatures battling on a grand scale in swooping 3D images. There’s definitely some nice eye-candy buried in this mess that looks spectacular on a big screen behind plastic glasses. However, since there are no characters worth caring about or surprises in the convoluted narrative, it’s hard for viewers to get swept up in any of that expensive imagery. Some sequences would probably be fun in isolation as a theatrical 3D demo reel, but as a feature film, ‘Gods of Egypt’ is a pretty boring mess of a movie.
Even though the thing was clearly produced and focused-grouped to death in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience, it’s hard to imagine that there are viewers out there who might actually find this big sloppy CGI mess appealing. The movie is destined to disappear almost instantly and it just might take any hope of Alex Proyas somehow making a creative comeback with it.