Ever since the trailer for Alex Proyas’ sword-and-sandal fantasy epic Gods of Egypt was released, the Internet has been afire with accusations of whitewashing, as Egyptian gods and goddesses were recast as people from such exotic lands as Scotland (Gerard Butler) and Australia (Brenton Thwaites). Having now seen the film, I can safely say that whitewashing is the least of this film’s problems – Gods of Egypt is a dull, meandering, plastic mess of pre-2002 CGI and performances as flat as the green screens behind them.
Set in a fantastical world of steampunk-meets-Power Rangers Egyptian mysticism, Gods of Egypt sees the titular deities kindly lording over the land of Egypt. (Egypt, by the way, is depicted as an entire world comprised of a flat disc floating in space, with the underworld on the other side, in one of the film’s few interesting creative decisions. B.o.B. and his fans would be thrilled.) After the evil god Set (Butler) kills his brother Osiris and blinds his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), he rules over Egypt with an iron fist. In exile, Horus must find a way to get his eyes and kingdom back, with the help of the plucky Prince of Persia clone Bek (Thwaites) and his remaining coterie of gods.
Whatever can be said about Gods of Egypt, there are brief glimmers of visual splendor to be found among the often distracting green screen sequences, which are further marred by cardboard cutout-level 3D post-processing. Proyas has always been a visually-minded filmmaker, even with dreck like I, Robot, and there are a few moments of enjoyable spectacle from time to time, aided helpfully by the filter of low expectations. One can’t help but giggle every time Geoffrey Rush appears as the hammy sun god Ra, hanging out on a space sailboat designed like a Cable Ace Awards set and shooting lasers at a giant sandworm. Some of the action sequences, while derivative, are reasonably entertaining as well, including one particularly video game-y boss battle against two of Set’s henchmen on giant snakes.
The problem, though, is everything else. For the most part, Gods of Egypt’s CG makes the film play like one huge Playstation 2 cutscene, and the novelty of the ridiculous, gold-heavy production design wears thin pretty fast. When Butler and Coster-Waldau morph into their texture-less, winged Deity Beast Modes, it’s hard not to start thinking of Green Lantern, especially when the actors’ heads are crudely pasted onto the animated bodies. However, the film does pull off some mildly interesting forced-perspective gimmicks with the gods, as they stand several feet taller than the human characters. It’s a simple effect that stands out amongst all the overdesigned sets and costumes. Even then, you may spend more time gawking at the green-screen blurs around each actor as they walk through yet another endless desert.
The performances are no great shakes either, with everyone having to grimace their way through a troubling mix of faux eloquence and snarky modernisms, trying desperately to capture some kind of Whedonesque humor. Coster-Waldau and Thwaites admirably quip their way through some awful dialogue, but even they can’t escape the film’s failings. Worst of all, weirdly enough, is Chadwick Boseman, crumbling under the responsibility of being the film’s only major actor of color as he minces and crooks his elbow as the god of wisdom Thoth. That in one scene the film clones a hundred Chadwick Bosemans (Bosemen?) suggests that studios really do believe there aren’t enough people of color to fill these roles.
It’s hard to decide exactly how to be cruel to this movie; I truly admire Proyas as a director, and even with the whitewashing issue at hand, wanted to look at this movie as a creative work in its own context. Some of the film’s aggressively silly spectacle works, which is something it’s normally easier to get behind if a film commits wholly to it (see Jupiter Ascending). But even with this generous outlook, Gods of Egypt fails, its brief glimmers of inventive production design marred by bad dialogue and a bog-standard hero’s journey script. Proyas’ shameful failure here makes you want to drag out your Dark City Blu-ray so you can remember that brief period when we all sang his praises.