In Alex Proyas’ overlong and very silly Gods Of Egypt, 10-foot-tall Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), playboy heir to the Egyptian throne, gets his eyes plucked out by his apparently Scottish uncle, Set (Gerard Butler), and must join forces with a thief to save all of creation by solving a bunch of puzzles. A treasure trove of gilded fantasy bric-a-brac and clashing accents, Proyas’ sword-and-sandals space opera is a head above the likes of Wrath Of The Titans, but it rapidly devolves into a tedious and repetitive succession of monster chases, booby traps, and temples that start to crumble at the last minute. If nothing else, it makes one appreciate the artistry and economy that Paul W.S. Anderson brings to similar material, and the genuine otherworldliness that the likes of Hercules In The Haunted World conjured up with a couple of light gels, a fog machine, and some foam rocks.
Yet there’s something to be said for Proyas’ effects-driven, fantasy-kitsch vision of the surreal cosmology of Egyptian myth. Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who can grow bigger or smaller through the power of a constipated facial expression, totes the Sun across the flat disk of the Earth on his spacecraft-like solar barque, spending each night in battle with Apep, the Lovecraftian ancient that dwells in the primordial abyss beyond the cosmic ocean. Snake-tongued assassins ride fire-breathing giant cobras that resemble the sandworms of Dune. The gods bleed gold paint over their gold armor in palaces inlaid with even more gold. There are chariots pulled by giant scarab beetles; sedan chairs carried aloft by hundreds of birds; staves that shoot red death-rays; gods who transform into glistening animal-headed robots and then throw each other at architecturally impossible buildings while the human rabble flees. Every dress has more plunging neckline than fabric.
Starting with a long expository voice-over that brings to mind a video game’s opening cut scene, Gods Of Egypt quickly moves to Horus’ coronation, where Set arrives with an army of ruby-armored, gold-masked soldiers to kill his brother, Osiris, and blind his nephew. For a time, Gods Of Egypt seems to be introducing so many fantastical elements and baffling characters that it verges on becoming Proyas’ Jupiter Ascending, minus the effective chase sequences. But soon, it settles into a thoroughly uninvolving journey arc, with Horus and Bek (Brenton Thwaites) plodding across jungle and desert in order to put out Set’s eternal fire. Bek, who doesn’t worship the gods, is in it because Horus has promised to rescue his girlfriend, Zaya (Courtney Eaton), from the afterlife. The grayish desert of the dead seems like a failure of imagination in a movie as visually busy as this, though it does provide Gods Of Egypt with its one indelible image: Bek and Zaya’s hands passing through each other like colored mists when he finally comes to find her.
Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) doesn’t have a sense of staging that goes beyond putting the biggest object dead-center, which makes the decision to make the gods a different size from the mortals a waste of an opportunity to play with visual scale. And yet, one almost wants to rescue the movie’s extravagant high-fantasy paperback aesthetic—with its writhing monsters, biomechanical wings, and ogled cleavage—from the clutches of its screenplay. Writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (The Last Witch Hunter, Dracula Untold) tackle Egyptian myth the only way they know how: as a wannabe franchise-starter that feels like it was adapted from a tabletop role-playing game, with strict rules that need to be repeatedly stated out loud and a bestiary of creatures. There are dashes of corny humor—a lot of it involving the god of knowledge, Thoth (Chadwick Boseman, with an embarrassing accent)—but perhaps a movie like this is easiest to appreciate when it’s being stupidly serious.