Let’s give Gods of Egypt this much: An hour in, a giant cobra crashes and explodes like a bad guy’s car in a dumb movie from the Seventies. That snake, one of two in Alex Proyas’s film, is wide as a locomotive and long as a parade. It’s also straddled by a divine she-warrior who sends it crashing through a dead desert city in pursuit of a surfer-boy thief (Brenton Thwaites) and a giant blond god (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, embiggened by CGI.) It’s dumb as hell, but at least it’s an impassioned, sumptuous dumbness.
You can walk out of a dozen studio-produced FX debacles every year with the glum certainty that nobody involved at any step of production ever thought the movie might matter. The best moments of Gods of Egypt, though, play like the creators, in their cracked way, fully believe all this is awesome and can’t wait to make you gape at it. I once toured a friend of a friend’s tricked-out, fully carpeted sword-and-sorcery themed custom van, and that experience was comparable to this one: I wanted out pretty quickly, but at least that dude was going for something.
So, Gods of Egypt. This is Clash of the Titans–style adventure hokum spiced with the pantheon of Ra and the director’s bold interest in cleavage. As they strive to reclaim Egypt from the evil of Set (Gerard Butler), Coster-Waldau’s Horus and Thwaites’ Bek road-trip through a universe as deep-dish geeky as the Asgard of that first Thor movie. We meet Ra himself, played by Geoffrey Rush for some reason, piloting a skiff far above the flat disc of earth with the sun towed behind him, and we plunge into the maw of the billion-toothed space-worm that picks its once-a-night fight with him. We get some elaborate pyramid-raiding, with too-busy death traps that suggest the filmmakers haven’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark but have played Lego Indiana Jones. (The fighting, while never distinguished, is almost always legible to the eye.) We get tripped-out visions of the long slog a soul takes between death and the afterlife itself, scenes that are inventive enough in their staging that they bust wide open the rule in these late-winter studio castoffs: The CGI isn’t convincing, but for once it’s not unpleasing. That goes double for Set’s flying chariot with its team of beetles.
A good forty minutes of this movie are a goofy wonder, the kind of thing you can’t believe the producers spent so much money on. We see the god of wisdom (Chadwick Boseman) and his surplus of clone-like selves worry over what to name lettuce. We even see the sphinx, a sandy and stomping man-lion, pose its impossible riddle to the heroes. And maybe, if you watch this at home with the subtitles on, you might be able to work out just what that riddle and its answer could be. I couldn’t catch that dialogue, but here are a couple of doozies ripe for History of the World Part Two: “I’m sorry that the corpses of my parents inconvenience you.” And: “Not worth the papyrus it’s written on!”
Perhaps the workaday plot and inane battles are the cost of all that sustained playful splendor. Gods of Egypt‘s deity-versus-deity revenge story is entirely of this realm, with stiff team-building and a protracted action climax involving hero and villain outfitted as falcon-like robo-men. (“Without both my eyes, I can’t transform,” complains Coster-Waldau, his character demonstrating less grit in the face of loss than his Game of Thrones bastard.) Its human love story is even worse. The first time we behold Zaya (Courtney Eaton), Bek’s betrothed, you’ll know that she’s going to die soon; what other role does a dopey script like this have for the hero’s plus-one? As in most Cruise/DiCaprio movies, the true love must die to motivate the man to action.
This time, though, the filmmakers contrive a mythological excuse to keep her in the movie from beyond the veil, which might seem like progress — even as it gives the costume team the chance to whip up more of their ever-lower necklines. As bad movies go, this one at least is all-in on its badness.