It feels appropriate, given the attention being paid these days to Hollywood’s long history of whitewashing, that the first trailer for Gods of Egypt provoked such a large outcry over its decidedly white lead characters, both director Alex Proyas and Lionsgate, on behalf of its Summit brand, felt compelled to issue apologies for the casting long before the film actually hit theaters. It’s clear (especially if you look at the image attached to this review) that the studio wasn’t afraid of using people of color in its film. Unless they were in speaking roles, largely. But the casting issues of Gods of Egypt are far from the film’s only issue.
After explaining the relationship between gods and humans through exposition, the film opens with Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) preparing to assume the throne of Egypt from his father, Osiris (Bryan Brown). Just before he is crowned, though, Osiris’ brother Set (Gerard Butler) arrives from the wasteland he’s ruled to kill his brother and assume the throne himself. For good measure, Set plucks out his nephew’s all-seeing eyeballs after conquering him in a duel. A few years later, a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) retrieves one of Horus’ all-seeing eyeballs and brings it to him, with a request to do something only a god can do: save Bek’s love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) in the afterlife. In return, Bek promises to help Horus find his other eye so he can seek his revenge on Set.
Of the film’s many problems, casting is an obvious one. In this version of Egypt, characters have a wide range of accents, from Scottish (Butler) to Australian (Thwaites) to something completely random (Chadwick Bozeman), so there’s no attempt to even paint Egypt as being anything but a mishmash of different modern cultures. And for the most part, casting is limited to white actors. The two exceptions are Thoth (Bozeman) and Hathor (Elodie Yung), who end up providing the film with either a form of comic relief (Thoth) or sex appeal (Hathor). Considering the actors are not exactly household names (yet, for Chadwick “Black Panther” Bozeman), they’re not something that should be considered “draws.”
But that gets away from a more significant part of the film’s problems: even though the place is called Egypt, and it incorporates both Egyptian mythology and style, this is as much Egyptian as Velvet is cheese. Gods of Egypt is, of course, purely fantasy, but it really comes across as someone’s take on a random role-playing game that’s loosely set in a place that’s somewhat similar to Egypt. Maybe a smarter move would’ve been to rename the gods and country something original. This fix wouldn’t fix the film itself, necessarily, but it’s a starting point.
Visually, the film also has to contend with some surprisingly awful CGI. Rather than use part of the film’s large budget to create some realistic sets and incorporate CGI later, many parts of Gods of Egypt simply use CGI, and it looks neither convincing nor expensive. In multiple instances, it’s clear that the actors are working on green screen, with little attempt to guide their actions. Among the most poorly executed plans is the decision to make the gods roughly double the height of humans, which is rarely conveyed in a convincing manner.
To give it credit, Gods of Egypt could be worse. The film thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, more in line with writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’ last film, The Last Witch Hunter (another film with an RPG feel), than their first effort, Dracula Untold. But the CGI is so unconvincing and glaringly bad, and the actors fail to make themselves interesting so frequently, that the film can’t manage to make good on any promising elements.