FILM REVIEW – GODS OF EGYPT. With Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, Rufus Sewell. Written by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless. Directed by Alex Proyas. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality. 127 minutes.
Years ago, a staple of weekend matinees were movies based on Greek mythology, whether it was badly-dubbed Italian films about Hercules, or cheesy epics with great stop-motion special effects by Ray Harryhausen, like “Jason and the Argonauts.” Harryhausen’s last film, “Clash of the Titans,” was remade a while back, and someone had the bright idea to tap into another mythology with characters who might seem new.
Thus we get GODS OF EGYPT, which, for all its clichés and obvious borrowings from not only the earlier mythological films but the current run of superhero movies, somehow manages to be more fun that you might imagine. It helps if you can put yourself in the mindset of a ten-year-old looking at the battles of the gods and the plucky mortal caught up in the story.
Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones”) is about be crowned king of Egypt. The ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of his uncle Set (Gerard Butler), who proceeds to kill his brother and pluck out Horus’s eyes. He enslaves the Egyptians, separating Bek (Brenton Thwaites) from his beloved Zaya (Courtney Eaton). When the evil master builder Urshu (Rufus Sewell) kills Zaya, Bek turns to Horus–having recovered one of his eyes–for help.
From thereon even if you don’t know the mythology of Egypt–or even if you do–you can pretty much guess the broad outlines of the plot because we’ve seen it all before. Indeed, when Horus and Set have their climactic battle in their supernatural forms, it’s not all that dissimilar from such battles in “Iron Man” or “Man of Steel.”
Besides the novelty of the Egyptian pantheon, the film has two things going for it. First are the CGI effects. The design of the various locations and creatures is imaginative and well-executed. The lair of Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), the god of wisdom, features countless duplicates of himself because he doesn’t trust anyone else. The sun god Ra (Geoffrey Rush) protects a flat Earth from the never-ending attack of some space creature.
Second, it has a surprisingly strong cast for such fare, and they play it largely straight. That’s not to say the film is without humor, but with people like Boseman, Rush, and Sewell in supporting roles, this is no slapdash effort. Coster-Waldau and Butler play hero and villain god with far more subtlety than we see in some of the superhero films, and Thwaites and Eaton are appealing as the young mortals who prove themselves worthy of notice by the Egyptian deities.
Let’s not oversell this. “Gods of Egypt” is matinee fodder best enjoyed with a large tub of popcorn.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.