Close your eyes. Picture Egypt. What can you see? The golden sands of the desert, the glittering azure waters of the Nile, the sun reflecting off the wings of a 10ft tall falcon robot as it punches Gerard Butler in the face? I normally just think about the pyramids, but apparently Alex Proyas’ mind works a little bit differently. You can criticise a lot about Gods Of Egypt, from the blatant whitewashing to the ham-fisted writing, but you can’t say it’s not inventive.
When I studied Ancient History at university, I don’t remember anyone telling me that Horus was a robot with night-vision sniper eyes. I think if they had, I might have paid more attention. Proyas’ rather loose interpretation of the Egyptian gods and their kingdom is certainly imaginative, and while there are problems with the CGI implementation of these grandiose ideas, the crazy world of this movie is one of its best features.
On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!
“I don’t want to die, I want to live – forever!” As Gerard growls, paces and shakes his finger at sun god Ra, who is taking a break from sitting grumpily on some stairs and fighting a giant space worm to chat with his mutinous son Set, you can’t help but admire Butler’s commitment to being angry and Scottish, regardless of the role he is playing. The writing on this film is terrible, and while most of the cast play it disappointingly straight, fun is to be had watching Butler, and later Chadwick Boseman, chew the gold-plated scenery around them.
Alright, let’s talk about the plot. There’s a lot of running in this movie. At any moment, our heroes are running somewhere, or away from someone, or to find something. While some of the action setpieces are impressive, the problem is that half the time their context is not explained, and you’re left asking “What the hell is actually going on?” MacGuffins are scattered across Egypt, but it’s never clear which one Horus and co. are currently after or, more importantly, why you should give a damn.
Geoffrey in the Sky with Diamonds
It’s time to talk about Ra, played by the triple crowned Geoffrey Rush, who has won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony over his storied career. He lives on a spaceship, which I also don’t think was mentioned during my studies of Ancient Egypt, and impressively manages to out-grump Gerard Butler, as he stomps around his off-brand Asgardian sky-boat. He spends his days scaring off a giant space worm from consuming our disk-shaped planet, which looks like a cross between the naff cloudy Galactus from FF2: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and the wonderful alien invaders of 2011’s Attack the Block. Unfortunately this behemoth is more sad-sack than Sarlacc, and when it inevitably takes over from Gerald Butler to chew the scenery more literally, any threat is lost in murky CGI and Wilhelm Screaming galore. The scariest worm in this movie ends up being Geoffrey Rush’s ponytail.
While the ideas behind the visuals of this movie are intriguing (I’d love to see a concept art book), you can’t help but get the feeling that there hasn’t been much care in transferring them onto the screen. In several scenes, you can almost see where they’ve plastered an actor’s face onto a 10ft CGI body, and no effort has been made to match the lighting, with faces appearing bathed in daylight even during the night. There are clear missed opportunities to have fun with the different sizes – at one point our heroes are trekking through a swamp, and rather than letting us laugh as pint-sized Bek struggles to keep his head above water while the gods walk unfazed, the water comes up to the same place on mortals and immortals alike. Continuity errors like this infect Egypt worse than one of Moses’ plagues.
Bek to the Future
The hero of our sand-swept story is Bek, a young thief tasked by his pious girlfriend to help Horus overthrow Set’s tyrannical new regime. A human protagonist is a smart move; ideally it grounds this story of mighty-morphin’ power deities and offers a fun double act between whip-smart whippersnapper Bek and the gruff Horus. Unfortunately, Brenton Thwaites’ Bek is so anti-charismatic and irritating that you can’t help but cheer when the titular gods of Egypt punt him around like a football.
All the Single Ladies
The three principal female characters are marginalised to a ridiculous degree in Gods of Egypt. They all spend most of their screentime enslaved to or imprisoned by someone or another, and primarily act as objects of desire for male characters. Set’s wife Nepthys is pretty literally just a pair of wings for Set to steal; Bek’s girlfriend Zaya spends the film queuing in the underworld; and Elodie Yung is criminally underused as Hathor, goddess of love. Hathor escapes the clutches of Set basically so she can re-enslave herself to Anubis, and is then promptly shoved offscreen for the final act, with her fate left undetermined to set up a sequel that will likely never see the light of day.
I don’t want to seem like I am “Pecking to the rhythm of the consensus,” but it doesn’t take a genius to look at Gerard Butler and think “Hmmm, should this shouty Scotsman really be playing an African god?” Whilst I understand that this movie couldn’t have been made without Australian tax cuts that required restrictions on ‘imported actors’, and that a compromise was attempted in casting actors from across the world, it is insane that this movie proudly boasts an IMDb trivia tidbit that no Egyptian actors appear in the entire film. Whitewashing is a clear problem in Hollywood, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, as recent reports about Leonardo DiCaprio playing the Persian poet Rumi show. Alex Proyas can call me a pale-assed, deranged idiot all he likes, but he’s still responsible for contributing to a serious problem that pervades the industry.
Star Rating: 1/5
Kane Rating: 3/5
Gods of Egypt is insane, and pretty terrible. A strong cast are let down by a laughable script and a rushed, overly convoluted narrative. But it’s a lot of fun, and I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy myself watching it.