Much like its fantasy vision of ancient Egypt as a shiny grown-up playground on the order of the Las Vegas Strip, "Gods of Egypt" is glitzy, decadent and a little bit tacky. Controversy has haunted director Alex Proyas' (2009's "Knowing
") $140-million sword-and-sandal epic, beginning and ending with the alleged whitewashed casting of Caucasian Brits and Scots in the lead roles while the racially diverse supporting players are sidelined to primarily portray slaves and commoners. Although there is a certain validity in this observation and a necessary conversation to be had about enduring racism in Hollywood, let's also not kid ourselves that this particular project is some sacred historical recreation of Egypt's age-old past. It's a goofy adventure, no more and no less. Proyas has described the film as being about as much a true story as "Star Wars," though he seems to be getting ahead of himself comparing this picture to that beloved space-opera saga.
In an alternate universe/skewed reality where mortal men share the land with 9-foot-tall deities, god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is set to be crowned the new king of Egypt as father Osiris' (Bryan Brown) 1,000-year reign comes to an end. Before Horus can take over, however, Osiris' vindictive, power-hungry brother Set (Gerard Butler) sweeps in to murder his sibling, steal Horus' eyes (a central source of his strength), and usurp the throne. Desperate to save his one true love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from servitude and return the volatile land to its once-respectable state, lowly human Bek (Brenton Thwaites) sets out to reclaim Horus' eyes (one hidden in a scorpion-guarded, booby-trap-riddled vault, the other in a faraway pyramid) and save the weakened rightful heir from exile. Hoping an empowered Horus will be able to reverse a tragic fate striking closely to Bek, man and god team up to stop Set from destroying all of creation.
"Isn't this a bit excessive?" Set remarks before climbing aboard an ornate chariot driven by two giant flying beetles. He could easily be talking about "Gods of Egypt" as a whole, a slick, shiny diversion for viewers who prefer not to think much when they watch movies. There is a time and place for this kind of over-the-top cinematic extravaganza, and director Alex Proyas has made a film that, for the most part, looks great (at least it does in glorious 2D). Sheer spectacle does not always equate to intense audience involvement, though, and the bombastic, inconsistent CGI overshadows one's ability to truly live and breathe with the characters and their journey.
The commanding Gerard Butler (2013's "Olympus Has Fallen
") gnaws on his scenery with fitting relish as the villainous Set, while Geoffrey Rush (2011's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
") lends respectability and a sliver of emotional consequence as Horus and Set's grandfather, the blond-braided sun god Ra. This stands in contrast to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (2014's "The Other Woman
"), looking frequently annoyed as the eyepatch-wearing Horus; Brenton Thwaites (2014's "The Giver
"), whose heroic Bek mourns the sudden loss of a loved one with the same level of passion one makes a Starbucks order; and Chadwick Boseman (2014's "Draft Day
"), pretty terrible as flamboyant god of knowledge Thoth, studying over heads of lettuce in an Egyptian version of J.K. Rowling's Ministry of Magic.
"Gods of Egypt" has slightly more personality than the norm for this subgenre of mythological fantasy-adventures, and by not taking itself so seriously it avoids the outright embarrassment tainting much of 2015's "Jupiter Ascending
." A set-piece where Horus and Bek do battle with a pair of fire-breathing serpents across a sun-bleached sea of sarcophagi is an action highlight, but the proceedings are too safe by a half and rarely elicit genuine thrills or wonder. While screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless should be commended for getting an original idea not based on pre-existing source material produced on such a grand scale, director Alex Proyas' singular stamp only intermittently pops up, usually to remind of his dazzling, substantially superior 1998 sci-fi noir thriller "Dark City." By comparison, "Gods of Egypt" only works in spurts, and never on a level beyond its gaudily bedazzled surface.