If only Gods of Egypt had musical numbers, it might qualify as some kind of twisted classic. A faux-mythological spectacle in which everyone and everything is draped in more sparkle than Liberace, it lacks only a touch of song-and-dance to put its excess over the top. What a pity that writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter) seem to have drawn their main inspiration not from Bollywood but from video games.
They certainly didn't draw it from Egyptian mythology, which serves here as little more than a pretext for yet another teen-friendly "hero's journey." In this loose rendering of the Osiris myth (so loose that Isis barely appears on-screen), the Egyptian gods are essentially superheroes. Tall and gold-blooded, with the power to transform into half-animal CG concoctions, they dwell among mortals while pursuing their own agendas. The film's real stars, however, are green screens, ample cleavage and leather tunics.
One of those leather tunics is filled by the hunky limbs of Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), wastrel heir to King Osiris (Bryan Brown). Before the succession can take place, the monarch's Cain-esque brother, Set (Gerard Butler), shows up uninvited, murders his rival sibling and blinds his nephew. He also chews mountains of digitally generated scenery, then beds down with Hathor (Elodie Yung), a fertility goddess depicted here as a saucy sexpot.
Horus must fight his way back from exile to reclaim the throne, aided by a plucky young human thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who's on his own mission to rescue his simper-y beloved (Courtney Eaton) from the underworld. Bek clearly exists solely to enhance the story's relatability. Despite a Han Solo grin, the occasional wisecrack and some tepid buddy chemistry with Horus, he's kind of a bore.
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City) seems to aim at a sweet spot between the epic ponderousness of Exodus and the gleeful wackiness of Guardians of the Galaxy, but Gods lacks the solid comedy writing of the latter. A line referring to a bargain as "not worth the papyrus it's written on" is about as clever as things get. Physical comedy might have contributed some liveliness; the digitally generated size differential between Bek and Horus is several gags waiting to happen, but none of them ever do.
Where the film excels is in the glittery, Oz-like excess of its costuming and set design — which recall another recent folly, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending. However, Gods of Egypt approaches the memorable oddness of that film only when the heroes leave Earth and visit the sun god Ra (Geoffrey Rush), and we get a graphic reminder of how different the ancient Egyptians' conception of the solar system was from our own. For every pleasant absurdity like this, there are four or five boilerplate scenes of chasing, fighting or puzzle solving that may make you wish you had a controller to make it stop already.
Given the extremely tenuous connection between Egypt and Egypt, it may be redundant to point out that this is yet another epic in which North African natives are portrayed (with a few exceptions) by blondish northern Europeans. While authenticity obviously wasn't a priority here, a different casting strategy might at least have made Gods of Egypt stand out from the pack. As it is, the flick is most notable for making the anachronistic Roman spectacle mocked in Hail, Caesar! look like a serious work of art.