Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas had a terrific output in the 1990’s: the gothic comic book adaptation, The Crow, and the superlative neo-noir/sci-fi film Dark City. Since then, however, Proyas has made few noteworthy cinematic contributions, and his latest, the 3D fantasy/adventure film Gods of Egypt, is abundant in imagination but lacking in novelty.
Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless conceive a world where ancient Egyptian gods lived alongside their mortal subjects as rulers. Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the heir-apparent to the throne of Egypt, but his coronation is disrupted by his uncle, Set (Gerard Butler), who inherits the crown instead. A human thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), is thrust into the battle of gods in order to save his girlfriend, Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from death.
Sazama and Sharpless’ screenplay is loaded with plot, yet surprisingly sparse on productive world-building. Characters are introduced awkwardly, exposition is delivered clumsily, and plot devices are thrown here and there without much context. Factor in the film’s two-hour running time, the lethargic journey of a god and his human morality pet is too familiar to be interesting.
Proyas’ knack for visual chemistry – blending several different ideas together to form convincing architectural structures and effects – is on full display here, and helps buoy the film’s retreading of several, much better adventure films. The film’s moderate visual efficacy isn’t enough to save it from the more absurd elements: the gods (who are also 20 feet tall) bleed liquid gold, and the Earth is flat.
Predictably, Gods of Egypt has also received criticism for its whitewashing of ancient Egyptians. Only one actor of colour is a main character in the film (Chadwick Boseman plays Thoth, the god of knowledge) – the rest play slaves and peasants. Proyas has attempted to explain the casting by drawing attention to the fact that Gods of Egypt is a fantasy film and therefore lacks historical grounding (he has, however, apologized nonetheless). The exact nature of its cultural relevancy or accuracy is a point of contention. But regardless, the film’s cast seems especially unwilling to carry the film. Coster-Waldau lacks charisma and an out-of-place Geoffrey Rush frequently looks bored. While somewhat of a rising star who has yet to have a major studio hit, Brenton Thwaites is the most capable actor here.
Visually energized yet narratively tedious, Gods of Egypt is familiar territory.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile