‘This film has a $140 million budget, about a tenner of which was spent on effects by the looks of it’ – MacDara Conroy on Gods of Egypt
As spectacles of excess go, Gods of Egypt wants to be up there with the biggest and the boldest. I mean, just from that statement of a title alone! Picture titanic clashes between divine beings amid the pyramids on the most grandiose scale. Imagine decadence on a par with the Wachowskis’ misunderstood masterpiece of madness Jupiter Ascending. On second thought, maybe try not to think about that one as hard as director Alex Proyas seems to have done.
Once a visionary behind zeitgeist-catching cult favourites like The Crow and Dark City, the erstwhile music video helm grasps for a similar kind of aesthetic magic with this would-be epic. But as its brash nonsense splashes on the screen, it’s glaringly apparent how much his latest film rides on the arch coat-tails of more honestly ludicrous – or ludicrously honest? – fare. The results are more silly than sumptuous. Gods of Egypt? Gods are eejits, more like.
Still, it’s better than Knowing. You probably don’t remember that was Proyas’ last film, which is good because it was so rotten it’s really best forgotten. I just looked it up on Wikipedia for the purposes of this review and the plot synopsis is giving me the willies. No such preposterous plotting here, thankfully, as Gods of Egypt keeps its story relatively straight and simple: a human-deity tag team unites to save the mortal realm and the afterlife from evil, more or less.
It’s how this story is presented where the problems lie. You’ve no doubt heard the accusations of whitewashing and ethnic erasure in the casting of mostly white actors in a film about a North African Arab country and its rich mythos. They’re fair claims to make, even if it’s also fair to understand, if not accept, that predominantly white, male, ‘safe’ faces help blockbusters make money. Or that Proyas, a Greek Egyptian who grew up in Australia, might have come at the project with a well-meaning if ignorant notion of multiculturalism in his fantastical vision of an Ancient Egypt where a Danish Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) battles a Scottish Set (Gerard Butler) and his outlandish minions among a gaggle of Aussies (Geoffrey Rush and Bruce Spence being the most familiar faces). It’s also worth noting that the basics of Proyas’ world-building in Gods of Egypt are essentially true to the texts, though their representation here is a bit more Saturday-morning cartoon than the wall carvings and papyrus scrolls pored over by Egyptologists.
Better to save criticism for the performances, a carvery’s worth of ham all round. Coster-Waldau and Butler just about get away with it by virtue of their sheer swagger. No such excuses for Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) as the cocky Boys-from-Brazil Aladdin of the piece, nor Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) in her second slave-girl role in as many movies. Élodie Yung ties for worst offender – thanks to her jaw-stretching, ear-scraping attempt at a pan-continental accent – with Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War) and his pantomime camp-nerd nexus.
Moreover, it’s impossible to ignore the unconscionably poor CGI renderings of the gods in their souped-up Power Rangers-like battle forms, the kind of herky-jerk polygons not seen since the halcyon days of the mid–1990s (think Mortal Kombat and the like) when filmmakers could argue they didn’t know any better. Bear in mind this film has a $140 million budget, about a tenner of which was spent on effects by the looks of it.
Now comes the ‘And yet!’ portion of the review. If you can calibrate your expectations accordingly, to revel in the badness, dare I say there might actually be some fun to be had here? A bloated two-hour running time belies a breathless pace, expositionary voiceover notwithstanding; there’s always something going on, even when whatever that is tempts poking fun over inspiring awe. Perhaps it’s pushing it to suggest a double bill for Gods of Egypt with the (relatively) superior Jupiter Ascending, but I do sense an afterlife for Proyas’ gaudy paean to his cultural origins, even if it’s one neither he nor the Hollywood machine intended.
Gods of Egypt opens nationwide on Friday June 17th