The hype for Alex Proyas’ fantasy-action film Gods of Egypt has been largely overshadowed by controversy over its not particularly Egyptian-looking cast, but the feature was originally angling to be known for its unique visual aesthetic and focus on the under-utilized (onscreen) mythology of Ancient Egypt; including armored gods, huge snake-like monsters and retro-futuristic architecture.
Those qualities are once again on display in a new Gods of Egypt trailer cut for audiences in the UK, which attempts to refocus attention on the film’s story and action scenes.
Loosely inspired by a reimagined version of ancient Egyptian myth, Gods of Egypt follows the mortal Bek (Brendon Thwaites) as he attempts to rescue his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from God of Darkness Set (Gerard Butler) by forming an alliance with heroic god Horus (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). While the names and references are borrowed from actual mythology, director Proyas has stated that the film does not take place in any version of historical reality and is not meant to represent the actual ancient Egypt as known to historians and archaeologists – though that is not expected to quiet concerns about the film’s “white-washed” casting, which the filmmakers have already apologized for.
One of the noteworthy visual conceits on further display in this new trailer is the use of forced-perspective effects to make the “god” characters appear inhumanly larger than the mortals, with most of them portrayed as at least nine feet tall when looking otherwise human and even larger when they enter their armored “battle beast” form. Notably Elodie Yung, soon to be better known as Marvel’s Elektra in Season 2 of Daredevil, appears as the goddess Hathor, while Chadwick Boseman – aka Marvel’s Black Panther – is Thoth; a role he says he took in part to ensure that a character of African descent was present in the film (per GQ):
“When I originally was approached with the script, I thought this [critique] might come up, I really did. And I’m thankful that it did, because actually, I agree with it. That’s why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom. And in the movie, I actually outnumber the other gods in the movie, literally and figuratively. It’s hard for people to know that without seeing it. But yeah—people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people. [Shakes head.]”
The difficulties of appropriately casting ancient Egyptians – often presented as looking caucasian but historically thought to have been a mixed-race culture of predominantly darker-skinned peoples – has been long present in Hollywood filmmaking, but came to a head last year in a similar casting controversy over Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings in 2014. While studios do not generally expect such controversies to effect the overall box-office performance of genre films, there is increased sensitivity toward the effect they can have on a film’s reputation down the road – a fear which is likely to thank for Gods’ unexpectedly blunt filmmaker apology.
Mythological films in general have proved a tough sell for audiences in recent years: The 2010 remake of Clash of The Titans was a box-office success, but its sequel Wrath of The Titans was not as popular; while despite two attempts the Percy Jackson franchise failed to become the next Harry Potter. And while Tarsem Singh’s Immortals won favorable nods for its visual originality and impressively brutal level of onscreen violence, it was only a mild success on initial release. Those films all used Greek mythology as the basis for their stories and creatures, so it’s possible that the less familiar Egyptian setting here will draw attention based on sheer uniqueness – though analysts have been quick to note that none of its main cast are reliable draws with moviegoers.
Gods of Egypt opens in U.S. theaters on February 26, 2016.