Before it was even released, the Associated Press reported that Lionsgate had received substantial complaints about Gods of Egypt’s “ethnically inaccurate casting.” A few minutes into the film when Bryan Brown appears on screen as the Egyptian god Osiris, you begin to think that maybe the critics have a point. No matter how well Brown disguises his accent, there is no escaping the suspicion that he’s going to crack open a Fosters and break into a slew of Aussie colloquialisms at any second. Then you have Gerard Butler, who looks and sounds like a brick layer from New Jersey ripped on steroids: he plays Osiris’ evil brother Set. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones’ effervescently English-sounding Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Horus, son of Osiris, and Geoffrey Rush appears as the sun god Ra.
In short, the casting really is ridiculous, though it is unlikely that it was ever intentionally offensive. The important thing to realise is that Gods of Egypt never takes itself too seriously; and it probably never expected anyone else to either. While this may sound like a criticism, it isn’t, because the best thing the film has going for it is a tremendous sense of fun and good humour, although it does play straight enough not to become a pastiche.
The film takes as its plot from the mythological legends of Ancient Egypt, weaving a fantastical tale of gods and men, love, death, eternity and mortality. In the ancient world, gods and men dwell together in harmony, a virtual paradise on earth where all is well and right. However, it takes Gerard Butler only five minutes to reprehensibly cock up the order of the universe. Osiris is about to crown Horus the new king when Set returns from the desert, impales Osiris through the heart and rips out Horus’ eyes – the source of his power. Crowning himself the new ruler, Set embarks on a mission to enslave the mortals and kill the other gods. Set, however, does not count on a young mortal, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), and his deal with Horus.
It certainly helps that Gods of Egypt has such a rich source of mythology from which to draw its narrative. The conceptual scope – the machinations of gods, of life, death and the after-world – is rigorously fascinating and, translated through 21st century popcorn fodder, easy to digest. There is a great sense of expansiveness to the fictional world of the film, of boundless possibility that elevates it beyond ad-hoc fantasy into the realm of the genuinely imaginative.
Not to say the film is perfect when it isn’t. Butler is a major sore thumb. Coster-Waldau doing his Prince Charming routine may be equally displaced, but there is at least a sense of neutrality to his English accent and bearing, whereas Butler’s gruff Irish/American goon suggests a serious tear in the fabric of space and time. Regardless, Coster-Waldau is a very likeable lead, and Butler is, if nothing else, menacing enough in his own way.
While Gods of Egypt may suffer from bizarre casting and an over-reliance on CGI, it is, nevertheless, rollicking entertainment.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10