There is a critical conceit that I'm sure you've all bumped into, where certain filmmakers get a number of "freebies" - at one point in their career, they made a single film so impressive that the critic in question has decided that they get to make several bad films before we give up on them. As recently as a week ago, I'd have said that on the strength of the glorious Dark City, Alex Proyas had earned enough credit with me that he would never end up running out of freebies, and I don't care that he's only made crap since then. Then I saw Gods of Egypt, and it turns out I was wrong, and Proyas has burned through every molecule of goodwill I had reserved for him - and then some.

Before I carry that line of thought any further, a caveat; Gods of Egypt is tremendously entertaining, and completely worthy of your time. It's just that it's not good. Ack, no; not "just" not good. It is titanically not good. It is not good in the kind of once-a-year way where for reasons that are totally unclear, a studio took a look at a screenplay that was plainly not going to result in a film with the tiniest chance of appealing to any realistic audience, and said "yep, we want to be in the business of making that." And then instead of giving it a skimpy little B-picture budget, they dump piles of money on, just piles. The film's design resembles a cross between a terrible fighting game based on Chariots of the Gods and an aneurysm, but by Christ they spent the money to make that look as sleek as is was ever going to.

Gods of Egypt neatly sidesteps the whitewashing controversy that's been brewing since last fall by taking place in a setting that has as much in common with any culture that has ever occupied the Nile valley as it does with the merry old land of Oz. Once upon a time, giant people about twice the size of normal humans, except for the approximately 90% of shots in the film that ignore or forget about that fact, lived millennium-long lives and ruled as gods a population of people of every skin color, shape, and background imaginable, as long as they speak with BBC English accents. The god Osiris (Bryan Brown) is about to pass the kingship of Egypt to his dilettante son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but Osiris's brother Set (Gerard Butler) has become well and truly pissed off at being stuck as the rule of the vast, lifeless desert all these hundred years, ever since the brother's immortal father Ra (Geoffrey Rush) assigned them those roles. So he takes over Egypt, blinds and banished Horus, and busies himself with a plan to destroy the universe. Horus, crabby and petulant, teams up with deeply irreverent thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to go on a fetch quest and set things right.

The gods, meanwhile, can turn themselves into giant fucking chrome animals, like characters in an overclocked '80s cartoon, and also Ra flies a spaceship and has a magic staff that shoots the sun at people. Assassins wielding snakes the size of city blocks come along, there are pyramids with death traps that are dead ringers for the levels in a 3-D Mario game, and the whole thing is quite arbitrary, inconsequential, and very much like wandering into watching somebody playing a video game that they don't understand, so what the hell are you supposed to do about it? Laugh like an infant playing with his parents' keys, if you're me; this is at any rate the most fearlessly gaudy bad movie in ages, a bombardment of inexplicable style directed in the chaotic mold of Uwe Boll, or Roland Emmerich in his most manic phases. Butler tries to treat this as a dead-serious matter and fails hilariously; Rush treats it seriously and actually creates a weird bubble of Shakespearean tragedy around himself; Coster-Waldau) simply slums around drunkenly, and gets almost the best of it. The very best, beyond a doubt, is Chadwick Boseman, making a thoroughly fucking random swerve from playing every historically prominent African-American in history to decide that since this is all camp, the only way to avoid looking like a twerp is to play Thoth, the god of knowledge, as a drag queen. It's the most successfully inspired weird choice in a boundlessly demented film.