Twenty minutes into Gods of Egypt, Hollywood's latest flaccid, inept, lackadaisical action flick, goddess Hathor asks of her lover Horus, "Is there anything more dull than sitting on a throne all day?" The question is rhetorical, but it's also ironic: Less than a quarter of the way into the film, both the audience and Gods of Egypt itself are aware of how mindlessly dull it is.
Unfortunately, this stunning moment of self-awareness is less a winking nod than a warning, a challenge. Gods of Egypt is not satisfied with being your average forgettable blockbuster. No, it wants to be something much worse: a big-budget disaster whose existence is meant to lull those unfortunate few watching to sleep, only to shock them awake in a fit of rage.
Gods of Egypt, directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot, The Crow), takes every opportunity to prove that, yes, a CGI-laden 3D action movie set in one of mythology's flashiest, most decadent locales can be completely unspectacular. Infuriating blandness is the film's most pervasive facet, and it's hard to attribute its cause to any single factor.
The most obvious point of blame, however, is Gods of Egypt's utterly lackluster cast. Despite starring mythological deities (and a handful of even less enthralling mortals) not a single character manages to leave an impression on the viewer. Perhaps it's because these characters are meandering through a plot that doesn't serve them, something that aims for Shakespeare but settles just above Bay.
Nothing about Gods of Egypt's story is novel or worth elaborating upon, but for context: The film opens with the narration of the mortal Bek, who is quickly revealed to be the requisite pretty boy as well as the inordinately talented central everyman. The hero is in love with Zaya, who is equally pretty but plays a much more ancillary role. Both reluctantly bow at the feet of their king, the god Osiris, while Bek aspires to make a name for himself beyond regular Joe.
Bek earns his chance when, in a whirlwind of cluttered fighting, Osiris is murdered by his brother, the god of darkness Set. Set also quickly ousts Osiris' son Horus by robbing him of his sight and banishing him from the kingdom. The scene, and in large part the subsequent events, plays like a version of Hamlet without any nuance or emotion. Osiris' murder and Horus' eyes getting ripped out of his head are the first instances in a long line of strangely bloodless violence for the sake of thrills, something Gods of Egypt never manages with any success.
grandiose set pieces on a linear, sputtering path to the finish line
That's because none of the characters resonate, and the conventional storytelling only highlights just how relentlessly dull they are. While Set — portrayed by Gerard Butler as a brutal Scot, natural brogue intact — is obviously an evil guy, Horus isn't much better. Horus is motivated by selfish pursuits, as is Bek and the rest of the gods: Each character is after something for their own personal gain, whether it's Horus looking to reclaim his eyesight or Set wanting to take over the kingdom because, well, that's what bad guys just have to do.
Even as Bek's primary motivation because his love for Zaya, Gods of Egypt is still a story about putting your own needs above anyone else's. The film shuffles characters to the side in favor of unfolding grandiose set pieces on its linear, sputtering path to the finish line. What starts as a tale of reclamation evolves into a buddy flick as Horus and Bek team up to help the other achieve his goals, often ribbing each other to zero comedic effect. They pick up more group members along the way, all of whom work to reinstate Horus as their rightful king; these include Horus' put upon girlfriend Hathor, goddess of love, and Thoth, god of wisdom, who again transform the movie into an uncomfortable road trip.
The only section of Gods of Egypt that comes close to elevating it to a three-dimensional work is fleeting. Horus and Bek add Thoth to their motley crew of narcissistic travelers more than halfway through, and with him comes a relieving sense of camp that raises the question: Why didn't the film embrace its campiness in the first place? Gods of Egypt is so entrenched in its own half-woven self-serious mythos that Thoth's flamboyance reads as far funnier than it would in any better designed film.
Unsurprisingly, this one saving grace, the only character cognizant of the movie's absurdity, doesn't stick around for too long. As quickly as Thoth enters and enlivens the film, he's sent back offscreen. So it goes with Gods of Egypt: Entertainment is all but against the rules.
There's never a moment in which the viewer thinks this baffling portrayal of African mythology is acceptable
Once Thoth is out of the picture, there are no further reprieves for the bored and beleaguered viewer. For an action film, Gods of Egypt keeps it casual: Its fight scenes lack tension and thrill. The film slaps 3D on top of its archaic CGI in an effort to add depth and visual excitement to its empty set pieces.
As the film limps ahead from point ugh to point blah, all of its turns are telegraphed, and everything wraps up in a neat gold ribbon. That's the most that can be said about Gods of Egypt: It does absolutely nothing new. It inspires no emotion, invites no interrogation, offers no secrets.
Gods of Egypt does manage to elicit frustration, however, thanks to the colorless depiction of its setting. None of the eponymous Gods are people of color, and neither are the majority of the supporting characters. It's hard to be disappointed by something for which you have zero expectations, but the fact that Gods of Egypt spends more screentime on anthropomorphic transforming birdmen than people conceivably of Egyptian descent is pretty astounding. There's no excuse for a film in 2016 to receive a major theatrical debut in spite of such blatant cultural ignorance.
Gods of Egypt is a movie in which Gerard Butler is the biggest star, playing the olive-skinned ruler of a light-haired people. It's even more telling that the only person of color with a speaking role dies a quick and brutal death.
There is hope in the fact that Gods of Egypt doesn't pretend it has anything but flashy lights and pretty women to offer. There's never a moment in which the viewer thinks this baffling portrayal of African mythology is acceptable or exciting. It's obvious from the get-go how much more preferable a walk through a real desert would be to sitting through this dry, tone deaf picture.
Here's the good news: As soon as you walk out of the theater, you'll forget about Gods of Egypt. Turns out there is something worse than staying put on a throne all day.