“The Battle for Eternity Begins”
Directed by Alex Proyas
Starring Nikolaj Coster-Walder, Gerard Butler, Brendon Thwaites, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush
In Ancient Egypt, the gods live alongside humanity, but a little above, being as they are about twelve feet tall. When beloved commie monarch Osiris (Bryan Brown) retires and passes the crown to his son Horus (Coster-Walder,) the ceremony is interrupted by the desert god Set (Butler), who wrecks Horus in a fight and rips out his eyes. Set declares himself king and announces that he will be monetising the afterlife and throwing out Osiris’ ‘give what you can afford’ policy on offerings, enslaving the human population, including petty larcenist Bek (Thwaites) and his beloved Zaya (Eaton).
Flash forward a few years, and Set’s chief architect Urshu (Sewell) is working on a commission to build a massive phallic symbol for the glory of Ra (Rush). Zaya convinces Bek to steal back Horus’ eyes, but he only gets one and she gets killed. Bek makes a deal with Horus to help him gain access to Set’s source of power in exchange for resurrecting Zaya. Meanwhile, Set wipes out the remaining rebel gods and tells Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love and Horus’ ex, who became Set’s mistress in exchange for Horus’ life, that he plans to conquer the Underworld as well.
Hathor joins Set and Bek, and they recruit Thoth (Boseman) to help answer the riddle of the Sphinx, only for Set to ambush them and steal Thoth’s brain, combining it with the other eye of Horus, the heart of Osiris and the wings of his ex, Nephtys, to combine their powers and become a sort of evil Captain Planet. He visits Ra and is all ‘ain’t I cool?’, and is horrified to learnt hat his destiny was to become Ra’s replacement, coasting around the world on the sun barge fighting a giant snake forever. Instead, he throws his old dad off the barge and everything goes to shit.
Hathor sacrifices herself to save Zaya from oblivion and Horus is inspired to work with Bek for the good of all, discovering that the power was inside him all along. He trashes Set and restores Ra, who in gratitude resurrects Bek and Zaya. Horus becomes king and announces that immortality will henceforth rest on good works, compassion and all that other good Christian stuff. Hoorah!
What’s wrong with it?
So, let’s get this done, because it has to be said: White dudes. I actually get what the filmmakers were up to, I think. In the fantasy setting of the movie ‘Egypt’ – it’s not actual Egypt; it’s barely even Aegypt – is the cradle of all life, so it’s a multiracial paradise until the Scots turn up (well, a Scot; I’m not sure I can make an actual case that Proyas hates the Celt.) The problem is that all of the main characters are pretty white, apart from the one who is French-Cambodian and the one playing dangerously close to magical negro (although honestly, he escapes the actual magical negro stereotype since the magical negro is typically a humble repository of all wisdom, whereas Thoth knows he’s better than everyone else.) And partly I think this is just because budgetary constraints meant that it was more practical to hire actors who a) didn’t need to fly to Australia or b) could stay with friends and family even if they’d rebased to LA.
Who casts Elodie Yung in an action movie and gives her zero faces to kick in? In fact, given that this is Egyptian mythology they’re busking off, I am sorely disappointed in the shortage of genuinely ass-kicking women – even Astarte and Anat were relegated to fighting via shai-hulud – but specifically not giving TV’s Elektra a fight scene is like… casting Edina Menzel in a Disney movie and not giving her any songs. Yes, I am looking at you, Enchanted.
The female characters are kind of disappointing all around. Hathor is okay, and Yung gives her a sort of irrepressible joy in the existence of love that makes her an unusually likable love goddess, but Zaya is basically the ultimate in distressed damsels, and despite a promising start, Nephtys is really only there to show how far Set is willing to go and to hint at his master plan.
Isis killed herself? The most pathologically vengeful wife and overprotective mother this side of Lady Stoneheart just gave up and topped herself? Weaksauce.
Horus and Set turn into these animal-headed power suits, which means that they have no expression whatsoever. Just look at how much more expressive Anubis and Mnevis (Set’s bull-headed goon) were.
I really wanted to see more of the other gods. Isis was sold super short, and what about Sekhmet? How does the single most powerful combat deity in Egypt not figure in this?
Most of the action scenes are just a hot mess of CGI.
The riddle of the Sphinx. Not that it was a different riddle. Props on that, because the old one has been done to death. More the fact that… What’s the phrase I’m looking for…?
Yeah, right: THAT’S THE WRONG SPHINX! The Sphinx who asks riddles is the Greek Sphinx, a winged, female sphinx who lived on a road outside Thebes (and no, not the one in Egypt.) I’d probabyl mind less if there weren’t signs elsewhere of some pretty solid mythological research.
Most of the dialogue is just horrible. In particular, every line that is supposed to be important is basically leaden.
What’s right with it?
Some of the effects are very pretty, and the Australian location landscapes are fairly epic.
When not labouring through the abysmal epic and expository dialogue, the banter between the characters is actually pretty engaging.
Anubis is not the devil.
How bad is it really?
Gods of Egypt is a heartbreaking work of staggering almostness. It’s got some good moments, and I think could have been amazing if the filmmakers had been willing to embrace the fundamental goofiness of the premise. Seriously, it’s at its best when the characters are giving each other grief or commenting on the ridiculousness of their situations, or in the few moments of epic grandeur such as the scenes aboard the solar barge. If it had been willing to admit its own silliness – and maybe use a few more practical effects – it could have been a lot of fun.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Visiting Thoth’s library, the party find him surrounded by identical copies of himself, analysing the latest object of his studying, trying to quantify its ultimate truth. When he is distracted from conversing with them by a revelation as to the nature of the item, he turns back to it, only for Horus to snatch it away and declare angrily ‘It’s a lettuce!’
Bonus points for the fact that in Egyptian mythology… Well, let’s just say that sometimes a lettuce is just a lettuce, and sometimes it isn’t.
What’s up with…?
- The Britishness of Aegypt? Seriously, the film is like 90% Australians doing RP accents, apart from Horus (Dane doing an RP accent,) Set (Americanised Scot desperately trying to remember how to do his own accent,) Thoth (American doing RP, or possibly prissy Harvard,) and Hathor (Elodie Yung, doing what she do.)
- The bird mobile? Apparently Nephtys sends Horus and Bek transportation in the form of a chariot carried by thousands of tiny birds, but… I don’t know, set it up before she died because she knew they’d be there since… I don’t know. Maybe as Goddess of Protection she has access to the Machine from Person of Interest? I’d watch that series.
- Gold blood? I guess it was a visual choice, but it’s a bit wild.
- Hathor’s subjugation to Set? She can command any human, god or beast unless their heart belongs to another, and Set clearly only has eyes for Set, so how come she can’t control him? Just as an aside, in actual Egyptian mythology when Set tries to rape a Hathor-like goddess known as the Seed of Pre, she jumps into his head, giving him splitting migraines and rendering him impotent until well after he repents his actions.
Production values – Gods of Egypt uses far more CGI than is my preference. It’s decidedly shiny, however, and a visual feast when not blurring into indistinctness. 5
Dialogue and performances – The cast of the film as as game as they come, but the bulk of the dialogue is entirely without flow or life. The film cries out for pizzazz, but doesn’t have any. 14
Plot and execution – The plot is… thin. It’s a basic quest in which Horus learns not to be a jerk and discovers that the power was inside him all along. For my money, they could have afforded to include more gods and go for more of an ensemble vibe, but then I like my Egyptian gods various. 13
Randomness – The film has the kind of surface randomness that tends to come from the filmmakers choosing to only show a small part of a more complete picture. I suspect the existence of pages and pages of notes about how Set acquired the service of his various godly followers and fashioned his army of mask dudes, and what went on with the various rebel gods in the interim. It makes for a somewhat unsatisfying film, but in five years time I’d watch the series. 11
Waste of potential – Honestly, I think that this film could have been the colossal epic its makers wanted it to be, albeit probably in hands other than theirs. I also think it could have been a fun mythological buddy comedy, if they’d embraced that angle. Sadly, it’s stuck in the middle ground doing neither as well as it should. 15