Alex Proyas’ fall from grace is one less publicized than say, M. Night Shyamalan, but it’s no less ostensible than his either. His work spanning from the early ’90s included his celebrated, neo-noir visual masterworks The Crow and Dark City, and afterwards comes the mediocre but forgivable I, Robot and the laughable, crackpot conspiracy-driven Knowing. Perhaps what is destined to be his most ridiculed film yet is the special-effects heavy Gods of Egypt. A visually cluttered catastrophe of a film, featuring multiple action set pieces without even the vaguest semblance of a narrative.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Gods of Egypt, a film even from its time in preproduction never truly had a fighting chance. Too many of us weren’t ready to accept that Egyptian gods were going to be played by relatively well-known Caucasian actors. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, reveling on the dry wit of Jaime Lannister, plays the god Horus. Gerard Butler as the antagonist Set gives us a villainous variation of his iconic Leonidas. Geoffrey Rush is Ra, whose character is so frequently glazed beneath CGI that I’m convinced he phoned in most of his lines.
No doubt the movie is miscast, but not even with culturally appropriate actors could the movie be salvaged from its horrible misrepresentation of Egyptian polytheism. Gods of Egypt evokes something similar to the Pixar short, Sanjay’s Super Team. Both of whom play on the idea that superheroes are the new gods, figures of mythological fables. But while Sanjay’s Super Team is a very obvious metaphor, it seems Gods of Egypt takes this notion with a disturbing lack of self awareness.
The performance of Brenton Thwaites, as the Egyptian mortal Bek, feels slightly detached from the script. While one could attribute this to constant presence of chroma key sets, it certainly didn’t affect Chadwick Boseman, whose performance provides the only bit of creativity in the film. Another actor who tries to rise above the film’s creatively vapid script is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who through the chaos of the film’s narrative and confused plot threads, actually seems to possess something of a character arc.
Gods of Egypt is a spectacular failure, reminding us of the visual capabilities of film, but plays as a warning on how easily technical craft replaces the human aspect of the story. What should have been a tension-fuelled opening fight between Horus and Set is displaced by computer generated imagery, as the gods equip their clunkily animated, eagle-styled mecha suits to perform shoddy aerial dogfights. Even the supposed moments of intimacy can never supplant the artificiality of setting and tone, and is almost always beset by computer graphics.
Visual effects aren’t the only culprit to the film’s artificiality, the mortal protagonist Bek is a faint echo of previous desert swashbuckler archetypes, the story is categoric in its predictability and the dramatic tone of the film is always drowned beneath blasting fanfares. Gods of Egypt screams blockbuster spectacle, but even its soft whispers of human drama seem to have been built on an assembly line of blockbuster clichés. The damsel in distress, the Byronic hero, the fresh-face protagonist and the duplicitous villain, tropes which are celebrated but wearisomely applied in Gods of Egypt.
Yes, it’s another piece of whitewashed Hollywood produced trash. It will be a blatant reminder of a once great director’s succumbing to the throes of trying to construct a dramatic film beneath the hulking weight of computer generated imagery. More than that, Gods of Egypt will in itself become a fable of the failures of blockbuster cinema, how drama or a even a slightly compelling script can’t compete with the sheer mediocrity of a product manufactured to meet the poor, and misguided standards of what the modern movie resembles today.