I went into Gods of Egypt fully aware of the immense critical scorn heaped upon it — mainly in how Caucasian actors were cast in roles as Egyptian deities — and, coupled with how the trailers made it look like one more soulless CGI blockbuster wannabe, was prepared for a fiasco. To my great surprise, the opposite occurred, as, whitewashing aside, director Alex Proyas shows us exactly how to go about making a truly entertaining CGI spectacle.
In an ancient Egypt in which gods live among — and stand several feet taller than — mortals and bleed golden blood, King Osiris (Bryan Brown), in the act of passing the throne to his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), lord of the air, is murdered by his jealous brother Set (Gerard Butler), god of darkness, who then declares himself king. A year later, a mortal thief (Brenton Thwaites) enlists an exiled Horus in a bid to take down Set, who has more in mind than being king of Egypt.
Part of what places Gods several notches above other recent swords-and-sandals fantasy flicks is that it doesn’t feel overly self-important. Yes, the actors play all of what happens totally seriously — most of it against green screen, so far as I can tell — but never do they try to act epic. There are no grand orations or soliloquies. Everyone, including the gods, refreshingly come across as generally relatable beings who happen to inhabit a fantastical world.
And what a world Proyas and his effects team have created. “Spectacle” hardly covers it. This thing is dazzling, and not just the panoramic shots of ancient Egypt, or the sight of a colossal shadow beast devouring the landscape. The giant snakes that chase Coster-Waldau and Thwaites around impress, too, as does the guardian sphinx our heroes encounter, and the solar barge upon which sun god Ra (Geoffrey Rush) silently glides over the planet.
Proyas, the Egyptian-born Australian behind Dark City (a sci-fi masterpiece) and I, Robot, not only handles those effects deftly — never do they overwhelm the performances — but makes the whole enterprise exciting without resorting to incoherent flash cutting. This especially helps during the aforementioned giant-snakes sequence, and the marvelously rousing finale in which Butler and Coster-Waldau duke it out atop an obelisk whilst chaos erupts around them.
Amongst the largely pretty-people cast, Butler seems to relish being a bad guy, using his caveman masculinity to nice effect, while Coster-Waldau is well-cast and Thwaites makes a perfectly sprightly thief. Chadwick Boseman (42) injects some humor as god of wisdom Thoth, and Rush proves fully intimidating (and amusingly cranky) as Ra. I must also mention Brown, a veteran Aussie actor (F/X) who must be thanking some deity at this point that he got a part in a project that was in theaters. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 5/31/16