Cleopatra, The Mummy, The Scorpion King, and now Gods of Egypt. Hollywood’s long-running obsession with ancient Egypt continues in this special-effects heavy fantasy headed by the director of The Crow and I, Robot. With the production being based in Australia, there’s a little bit of local pride behind the fact that Gods of Egypt, despite its clichéd story and cookie-cutter protagonists, isn’t as bad as it could have been.
Taking place “before the beginning of history”, in an ancient Egypt where nine-foot-tall gods roam the Earth alongside mortals, Gods of Egypt begins with the coronation of Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), about to be crowned the new king of Egypt. Before the ceremony can be completed, Horus’ uncle, Set (Gerard Butler), storms in with an army, kills Horus’ father, blinds Horus by taking his eyes, and claims the throne for his own. Set then goes about becoming a maniacal tyrant, leaving it to Horus, with the help of mortal thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites), to defeat his uncle and re-take the throne.
First, the elephant in the room. This is a very, very white version of ancient Egypt. The lessons from the backlash over the whitewashing of the cast in the 2014 Egyptian epic Exodus: Gods and Kings have been ignored. Though apologies from director Alex Proyas and Lionsgate Entertainment for failing to consider diversity are a step forward, it’s still a wonder how it happened in the first place, and is still happening.
The cast that is in place does a decent enough job though, especially the Australians involved. Home & Away alumnus Brenton Thwaites as Bek provides an occasionally amusing double-act with Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, while also proving to have nice chemistry with fellow Aussie Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road), who plays Bek’s love interest, Zaya. A couple of cameos from veterans Geoffrey Rush and Bryan Brown don’t go astray either, both men making the most of little screen time.
The bigger international names struggle a little though. Coster-Waldau produces a mostly bored, generic protagonist in Horus, and has minimal chemistry with Élodie Yung, who plays Hathor, goddess of love, and Horus’ love interest. Their performances don’t quite stand up when opposite Gerard Butler, playing the evil Set. Admittedly, Butler’s accent is all over the place, sometimes changing during a single scene. However, he brings a light and shade that makes up for it, switching from intense to cold and ruthless seamlessly. Additionally, Chadwick Boseman, who will soon feature in Captain America: Civil War, gives us a small taste of his talent, playing Thoth, the god of wisdom, in an underutilised comedic role.
Thoth ends up being just one of the subjects of the CGI effects in this film, which swing wildly from incredibly impressive to painfully bad. It’s evident that some scenes have received a lot more polish than others. For example, Horus and Bek’s fight with a pair of impossibly large snakes looks to be at the cutting edge of special effects technology. But this comes after seeing Horus fight a group of minotaur-esque monsters in a scene that could have just as easily have been from a video game made a decade ago. The difference in quality is baffling and makes the movie feel like it was rushed through post-production.
But despite some of these problems, what saves Gods of Egypt is its knack for extracting a lot from a threadbare screenplay. Director Alex Proyas has smartly sidestepped getting lost in the film’s own mythology and kept the plot relatively straightforward. This means that, despite some lacklustre stretches in the first two acts, when Set does unleash the full extent of his powers, the audience is willing and able to stick with the film. For doing so, viewers are rewarded by an enthralling finale that manages to thoroughly top some already decent action sequences.
It won’t win any awards, and, frankly, it’ll be a surprise if it comes close to making back its $140 million budget at the box office. However, some decent action sequences, and some confident performances from the local cast make Gods of Egypt satisfying, if not spectacular.