The signs were there even before I took my seat that this action-adventure inspired by ancient Egyptian mythology would be a summer turkey like no other.
It has the same pair of writers as The Last Witch Hunter, which came out last autumn to a richly-deserved critical flaying, and the same director, Alex Proyas, whose last picture, 2009’s Knowing, relied on us believing in Nicolas Cage as an anguished astrophysicist. I’ll say no more.
Still, what Gods Of Egypt does achieve fairly skilfully is a marriage of ancient and modern mythologies. On the one hand, there is the story of the god-king Osiris (a fleeting appearance by Bryan Brown), who is murdered by his jealous brother Set (Gerard Butler) and avenged by his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
The reported £100 million budget behind the ill-starred fiasco Gods of Egypt didn’t even buy decent special effects
On the other, there is the belief that if you throw enough money at a production, it might be worth seeing. Not so. The reported £100 million budget behind this ill-starred fiasco didn’t even buy decent special effects. Temples crumble and monsters writhe, yet the computer-generated effects are as creaky as a script that makes good actors look mediocre, and mediocre actors look bad.
Among the former is Geoffrey Rush. Shaven-headed and goggle-eyed, and generally carrying on as if a director’s note advised him to think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he plays the father of Osiris and Set, the patriarchal sun god Ra, who can’t stop self-combusting and appears to live in outer space. The character puts the Ra first into execrable, and finally into unendurable.
But enduring the unendurable, suffering so that you don’t have to, is part of my job.
Patchy: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as avenging son Horus in Gods Of Egypt
So here goes with the plot, in honour of which Horus should really be renamed Porous. His uncle Set, the malevolent god of the desert, first kills his father and then plucks out his eyes. It looks like game, Set and match.
Without sight, Horus can’t wreak vengeance, or at any rate not without the help of a cheeky mortal, a thief called Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who needs Horus’s help to bring back his dead lover Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from the very gates of the underworld.
Zaya is a slave, killed by her powerful master Urshu (Rufus Sewell, who in middle age seems to be morphing into Ian McShane). He is the most feared man in Egypt, trusted with building a giant obelisk to the glory of Set, who has become so power-crazed that he is willing even to challenge his omnipotent father, Ra.
Urshu’s other big job is to keep Horus’s plucked-out eyes under lock and key. When Bek pinches one of them and returns it to Horus, naturally there is hell to pay.
Meanwhile, between Bek and Horus, an odd-couple buddy dynamic develops, enabling writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless to craft what they think is lively comic banter, but isn’t.
Will Bek help Horus to defeat Set and acquire the kingship of all Egypt, in what, for Game Of Thrones star Coster-Waldau, is basically a Game Of Thrones writ small?
I was beyond caring so long before the end that it was actually rather close to the beginning, starting roughly at the point at which a voiceover, purporting to be the older Bek looking back on his adventures, reminded me in all its melodramatic campness of Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo.
Tale Of Tales (15)
For an infinitely superior fantasy, seek out Tale Of Tales, Matteo Garrone’s deliciously saucy, magnificently loopy, exquisitely presented version of three of the stories of Giambattista Basile, the 16th- century Neapolitan writer celebrated for his fantastical fables.
If there is a theme uniting all three, interwoven tales, it is the perennially useful message that you can be monarch of all you survey, without ever really having what you crave most.
Salma Hayek plays a spoilt queen in Tale of Tales while John C. Reilly players her husband
The monarchs here are a spoilt queen (Salma Hayek), despairing at her failure to conceive, who is told by a wizened sage that she will only give birth if she eats the heart of a sea monster cooked by a virgin. It works; she loses her husband (John C. Reilly), killed in the battle with the sea monster, but acquires an adored son.
Unfortunately, the virgin, a humble kitchen maid, also gives birth to a son. The two boys (Christian and Jonah Lees) are identical twins, and despite their different circumstances, become inseparable, much to the queen’s distress.
Then there is a libidinous king (Vincent Cassel), who is driven mad with temptation by the song beneath his palace window of what he thinks is a gorgeous nymph, but is in fact an old crone. And another king (Toby Jones, wonderful as ever), who is less interested in his only daughter than in his pet flea.
In both cases their self-absorption is punished, terribly, and yet it is others who pay the price.
All this is just as weird as it sounds, but so richly realised, thanks not least to Peter Suschitsky’s stunning cinematography, that the lengthy running-time, well over two hours, seems far more like a pleasure than a penance. Of Gods Of Egypt, the precise opposite is true.