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Gods of Egypt movie review: #EgyptSoWhite in epic white-washed turkey


Given diversity in Hollywood is currently a hot topic of debate, the so-called #OscarsSoWhite Academy Awards rolling out its red carpet on Monday, the timing of director Alex Proyas’ epic turkey Gods of Egypt could hardly be worse.

Months before anyone had even seen it, the movie had a bad record. Both Proyas and the studio, Lionsgate, issued statements apologising for casting so many Caucasians in a film based in, well, Africa.

The situation is reminiscent of the controversy that greeted the release of Ridley Scott’s (considerably better) 2014 biblical blockbuster Exodus: Gods and Kings, which starred Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as a frocked-up skinhead Pharaoh.

While Proyas’ mea culpa began a little waffly and duckspeak-sounding (“The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables…”), Sir Ridley’s cut right to the bone.

“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” the grizzled veteran growled.

At least he was straight-shooting – acknowledging the kind of movers and shakers involved in big-time film financing want star power, not moral rectitude – though it’s hard to say which response was better.

Let’s make this much clear before we go on: in the case of Gods of Egypt, it gets worse. Not only does the film indulge in a right royal round of whitewashing, it also gives star Gerard Butler a brownface.

I don’t want to make too much of this, given it’s possible Butler simply nodded off in a solarium day after day. A perfectly normal person with skin and sleep issues.

But it’s there, and prominent enough to deserve a credit acknowledging what kind complexion-darkener constituted the producers’ brand of choice.

Butler plays Set, the so-called God of Darkness. The actor lives up to the moniker by committing a range of wicked deeds, one of which is starring in his most purely unwatchable film since director Zack Snyder’s sun-scorched 2007 cinematic interpretation of mud wrestling: 300.

In a moment that feels like a bargain basement rip-off of Game of Thrones, Set chucks a wobbly and pokes out the eyes of another powerful god, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is in fact one of the stars of GoT).

The pair biff on before transforming into huge dragon-like flying beasts to continue the fight. It’s one of several moments where viewers might wonder why they didn’t just do that to begin with.

The story involves a mere mortal, Brek (Brenton Thwaites) who embarks on a What Dreams May Come-esque mission to save his busty girlfriend from the horrors of afterlife. He cuts a deal with Horus and they team up: one thirsty for vengeance, the other for some nooky.

What does this mean for the audience? A lot of green screen-lit walking and waffle, a shiny collection of chest and ab-exhibiting outfits, special effects that somehow manage to look both expensive and shonky and a nondescript storyline that drifts between set pieces powered by industrial strength fans and computer-generated sand.

Proyas is a talented director (The Crow is a fright night classic and Dark City a nightmarish near-masterpiece) but he’s lost the plot in more ways than one. It’s as if Gods of Egypt was directed by nobody. There’s even a tacked-on wishy-washy voiceover that feels like a last ditch attempt to give it some coherency.

With a production budget of US$140 million, the film was shot at Fox Studios in Sydney, which means a number of Australian faces are strewn through it. Robyn Nevin appears, gobbled up by the cold hand of fate (and some air-brushed SFX). I’m pretty sure I saw a computer-mutilated Bruce Spence as a huge sandy pillar-like watchman thing, his face (and performance) literally dissolving before our eyes.

Geoffrey Rush sits alone by himself in outer space, periodically transforming into a fireball for some reason. Bryan Brown has a small role in the first act as Set’s brother Osiris, who feebly tries to calm his sibling’s rage with a good old fashioned hug.

“I love you brother, with all my heart,” he says. Set promptly responds by stabbing him in the gut and sending him to kingdom come. The same kind of fate ought to befall anyone who commits the sin of recruiting one of Australian cinema’s greatest tough guys for such a wimpy role.

Still, it’s hardly the most problematic decision from the casting department. And, comparatively, the least of the film’s problems.

21 responses to “Gods of Egypt movie review: #EgyptSoWhite in epic white-washed turkey

  1. Dear Alex Proyas: there is a general Hollywood rule of thumb that states the bigger the budget the greater the turkey. Please go and make ‘The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag’, which you’ve had on the drawing board for some years. It might just save your reputation.

  2. Butler has always had a good tan. Look at him in 300 if you want. That film also lacked a goodly portion of Greeks & Persians so he has history of “brownfacing”. I guess in that case you could maybe argue that Greeks aren’t really brown so it’s not a problem? Perhaps you could do a thesis on that Luke seeing as you can’t get past the concept of actors portraying other races when reviewing a movie.

  3. So this is yet another “Australian” movie according to the Australian Tax Office definition which means it gets a rebate (i.e. gift) of 40% of Australian expenditure under the Producer Offset tax rules. Why because the director is Australian and he contributed to the writing giving him a crucial co-writing contribution. Then you throw in some Aussie actors and shoot it at Fox and probably do some VFX here too. So how much Australian subsidy, probably $30-40 million. The copyright and revenues flows back to LA. Is the government ever going to put an end to this tax rort or are there too many Hollywood lobbyists peddling complete bullshit about its benefits to our local industry. This kind of rort is far worse than the local car industry which the Coalition no longer supports. This film is a Hollywood manufacturing enterprise at its absolute worst. Why is this continuing when our local film makers continue to struggle to tell Australian stories and Screen Australia’s funding has been slashed?

  4. If most of the actors were the correct colors and the movie proved to be the turkey it’s reviewed as, the black actors could be blamed for the flop. No Academy Awards here.

  5. Not really sure if the reviewer knew that the Egyptian gods were without race and often depicted as light skinned people with animal heads. So this movie would be factually correct.

      1. Um, what? Have you seen actual depictions of the gods in hieroglyphs? They have no color and usually have a head of an animal instead of a human one. Stop being ignorant on these matter, because in the end, it doesn’t matter. It is a shallow movie that doesn’t take itself seriously. Don’t like? Then please, move on.

  6. More than half of the review was talking about the actors being white. That doesn’t tell me anything about whether or not the movie was good…

      1. What I was trying to say is that most of the review is pointless as it focuses on something that doesn’t have much to do with the quality of the movie and then barley touches on the other aspects…

        1. Actually, the quality or appropriateness of casting has a lot to do with the quality of a movie. If you’re offended by someone pointing out the inappropriate whiteness of something then you’re basically racist.

          1. What? Basically a racist? Because he thought that Half of the review was pointless? It’s a shallow movie that is not to be taken seriously since the movie ain’t taking itself seriously either. Please stop with your “quality = race” bullshit. It’s not helping your argument and pulling the race card is also not helping.

  7. Oh my! What to say about Gods of Egypt? Certainly one of the most gleefully preposterous films I’ve ever seen.

    I wonder whether complaining about the lack of Egyptian actors in the film is like complaining about the dearth of Asgardian actors in Thor. I mean, what were you hoping for, Luke? More realism?

    I found myself smiling all the way through. Where else can you see Bryan Brown as a god? Geoffrey Rush with a light sabre? Robyn Nevin as dead woman walking (and walking, and walking)? And if you’ve ever wanted to see what you would get when you cross the Gyro Captain with Groot – then this is the film for you!

      1. Asgard is as real place as the sunboat or the flat earth in this movie. Thor and this have the same sense of reliability.
        This review is so awful, it lacks everything a review should have.It’s biased and doesn’t offer any information.
        In reality (because is have watched the movie), this movie is fun and midless and doesn’t try to be anything else.
        You can’t judge a movie based on what a movie you think should be like, yes it’s not a masterpiece but it doesn’t try to be. It also doesn’t try to be real or historical at all.
        I will sit here reading critics slaughtering this movie trying to please the internet or their minds thinking they just did the right thing.
        For real people who might be interested.
        It’s not as bad a trailer makes it to be, it’s not great either.. but it’s fun though and i would watch it again.
        If you want to spend 2 hours on a mindless action movie with some really cool images..this movie is for you. If not there are other movies.

      2. Yes. I was a little vague. My point was that this flat earth Egypt, with the sun being dragged by a gondola poled by Geoffrey Rush (yes, I know, not quite!), has as much in common with modern Egypt as Asgard has in common with Norway.


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