RECAP: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt (2016): Alex Proyas

Hot off the world’s biggest TV show, the man who plays Jaime Lannister earned a chance to head an action movie. The Danish man received the lead role as an Egyptian god.

Gerard Butler, long known as a cad and maybe a pill, played the villain’s role, also an Egyptian god. Eye rolls all around.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Horus, a Egyptian god, teams with Bek, a mortal, and other gods to overthrow Set, the gods who rules Egypt. 

Hero (5/10)

Osiris rules Egypt, but he’s ready to pass his crown to another, his son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Horus, Lord of the Air, is a cheeky man, perhaps not yet ready for the throne, as he awakens on his coronation day in a room full of prone bodies passed out from the rager the night before.

The crowning day is interrupted by Set (Gerard Butler), the god of the desert, who usurps and murders his brother and Horus’s father, Osiris. Horus transforms into his god form–a bird man–fights his uncle Set and loses his powerful eyes for it.

We takes the eyeses!
We takes the eyeses!

Wounded, Horus retreats to a stronghold far from Set’s world. Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a plucky human, visits him a year after Set’s usurpation and the day when Bek stole back one of Horus’s eyes.

Time has been unkind to the Lord of the Air. Offerings litter the wide stairs to his front door. Inside the chamber of black marble is Horus’s sarcophagus, ready for the god to give up and climb in.

Horus sits behind it as Bek enters. The thief, “a man of exceptional judgement,” teases the blind Horus into fighting him. Horus strikes a bargain with the cheeky “mortal.” Bek will steal Horus’s other eye if Horus helps resurrect Bek’s dead lover Zaya (Courtney Eaton).

Horus is in this game for himself. He visits Ra, his grandfather, who tells him that a god’s life is a journey. Horus believes his purpose is to kill Set.

The Lord of the Air thinks Bek beneath him for much of the film. He calls him “mortal” plenty of times and makes him fetch his water. Horus spends a long time explaining that no one can bring back the dead, not even the gods. Yet when Bek offers to steal Horus’s other eye, Horus changes his tune, saying, “There may be a way.”

If NBA players went to ancient Egypt, they would be thought gods.
If NBA players went to ancient Egypt, they would be thought gods because of their heights.

Horus doesn’t care about Bek and intends to toss him aside. When Bek fails to pour the water of life into Set’s desert, a trick meant to weaken Set, Horus is angry. “You denied me my vengeance,” Horus shouts.

Later, Horus admits that mortals don’t matter to the gods. They are fodder for their ploys and amusements. It’s easy for Horus to toss aside Bek.

That makes the ending more meaningful. In a key moment in the final battle with Set, Bek fulfills his goal and steals Horus’s other eye, now encased atop Set’s head. Set, Horus, and Bek are atop a huge tower built to appease great Ra, creator of all.

Bek and the eye fall from the obelisk pinnacle. Horus must choose which of the two to save. He chooses Bek. They fall and Horus transforms with only one eye. He thought he needed a perfect body to transform. Turns out, not so much.

Horus apologizes to Bek for how he’s behaved and realizes that he understands his purpose: it’s not to seek vengeance but “to protect my people.” Aww.

Coster-Waldau came to prominence as world-famous murderer Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. He plays a creature of similar power and bravado here, but a heroic one, if flawed.

Villain (6/10)

Set, lord of the desert and other, lesser parts of Egypt, arrives at Horus’s big crowning day bearing a gift.

Already there’s problems. Horus is on his knee, seconds from wearing the crown as king of Egypt. Instead of doing that he opens Set’s gift. It’s a horn. Horus blows the horn. An army of red-clad, gold-faced warriors marches in and surrounds the coronation platform.

Trouble’s brewing. Fighting ensues. Set challenges Osiris to a duel. The current king refuses, and Set stabs him in the gut. Horus takes up the staff Set brought for the fight, and they fly about the city. Set nearly kills Horus, but timely intervention from Hathor makes him change his mind. “You’re not fit to be king,” Set tells his nephew before he plucks out his special eyes.

Set sets about ruling Egypt with a bloody army. It’s fitting that his army is clad in red, Set’s color. Red is everywhere you find Set, including the royal bedchamber and even the sky in the finale. When Set steals Ra’s fire sword, the bolts change from orange to red. Even the desert is red.

Set’s plan is ruthless and efficient. Set erects a huge obelisk to Ra’s honor. One by one he kills the gods who oppose him. Most humans are enslaved, despite his campaign promises that none who worshipped him would be.

Fortunately this war against the gods is not the focus of Gods of Egypt. For all the effects work, the movie works hard to focus on its characters. Set’s battle against the rebel gods ends when he breaches the fortress of Nephthys, his ex-wife.

They exchange an important conversation. Set wonders why Nephthys married him. Because he looked great back in the day. But now he’s let himself go. She asks him an essential question. What does Set want? “Nothing can fulfill me,” he says.

Despite knowing that about himself, Set continues his rampage. He withholds his plans for a spell as he conquers the world. Once that’s done, he sets his sights on the lands of the dead and the space boat of his father, Ra.

In speaking with Ra (Geoffrey Rush) we learn Set’s true goal–conquering death. The only way to do that is to eat the afterlife. This was why Ra wouldn’t let Set have a kid. Part of the reason, anyway.

I created Creation!
I created Creation!

Turn out Ra set Set on a mission, to replace him as the protector of creation, the god who, nightly, beats back the chaos monster intent on gobbling creation.

Set’s not interested. He takes what he wants from conquered gods to become a super god, a Captain Planet of gods. He becomes more powerful than all the other gods, which, by the climax, is Horus, Hathor, and no one else.

It’s a fluke that Set loses his final battle with Horus. Horus rips Set’s wings off high in the air, and Set tumbles through his obelisk to Ra to die on the ground floor.

If you want a Egyptian god in your movie, you have to pick up the phone and call the Irishman Gerard Butler. Butler is saucy, but couldn’t cover his Irish accent for Gods of Egypt. I don’t know what accent would be appropriate for this movie, save Egyptian, but that wasn’t in the cards, was it?

Action/Effects (3/10)

Gods of Egypt is a chance for several studios to showcase their effects prowess. Gods are basically NBA players, standing twice the height of the mortals.

Other creatures make this an Egypt of myth. Ox-sized beetles pull Set’s chariot. Flocks of birds fly a sleigh. Two women ride snakes 100 feet long.

The imagery in Gods of Egypt evokes idyll. The island where Bek, Zaya, and Horus live is shown lovingly during the opening voiceover. Later, Bek and Zaya ride through the city to escape their slave masters. Sitting in a chariot, their background is one of the worst green screens I’ve seen this century. Background and foreground movements don’t match up, a problem seen in Cary Grant and Mae West movies, not in the 21st century.

Horus and Bek note the giant sand snakes coming right for them.
Horus and Bek note the giant sand snakes coming right for them.

The most impressive effects are saved for space. Ra lives on a translucent space yacht that’s chained to the sun. Each day his craft drags the sun over the edge of the flat earth. Glowing orange space dust surrounds the boat.

In another neat effect, Bek visits Zaya at the final gate to the afterlife. Bek is alive, but Zaya’s dead. They have a moment in which she passes her hand through his, hers leaving an feathery trace like a series of out-of-focus photographs.

Hathor removes her bracelet for a moment and falls through thousands of grabby demons. That was cool. There are other cool images, some noticeably bad. In all, not enough to make an impact.

The action left more to be desired. Forget about great wars or multiple battles. The only fighting in Gods of Egypt is between two gods. Horus and Set fight in the beginning, and they fight in the end. That’s about it.

Sidekicks (6/8)

A brazen young thief named Bek backs up his god friend Horus. More like nudges, because Horus isn’t interested in the boy’s problems. He admires the boy’s pluck.

Bek has recently married Zaya, and they live in the city in Egypt where the important stuff happens. The city has no name. Bek is a dreamer of boundless confidence who promised Zaya a good life and great things, among them 12 children. Easy promise for Bek to make.

Bek’s confident enough in his life that he “couldn’t care less about the gods.” A simple statement to make in our times, but in Bek’s world the gods literally walk the Earth. He’s planning to watch one’s coronation that afternoon. It’s such a careless thing to say.

After Set attains the throne, Bek is enslaved. A year later he sneaks away from a build team to visit his beloved Zaya, who slaves for Urshu, Set’s chief architect.

A year of slavery has not dulled Bek’s joie de vivre one wit. He believes himself to be the world’s best thief, and sneaking into Set’s top assistant’s office fits into that narrative.

Later we get to see Bek’s thieving skills. Needing to fetch Horus’s eye, Bek infiltrates the Set’s vault, where the god is storing all the gold in the world, one cup at a time.

Bek boards a gold cart and, with the gold, slides down a chute into the vault. On the floor are thousands of enraged, stabby scorpions. Above the floor is Horus’s eye.

Bek has the plans for the bridges between him and the eye. He first figures out that any shadow on the floor will cause the bridges to snap together like jaws with spikes out.

When he passes that test, a second bridge, flanked by statues with swords, unleashes said guards. Each statue spins and swivels, turning the space occupied by Bek into a threshing field. Bek uses his world-class gymnastics skills to dodge, duck, dip, dive, flip, slide, and roll, emerging to the second platform without a nick.

I kept waiting for Bek to chant, “The penitent man shall pass,” but he’s too cocky to fit that mold. Ahead of Bek was a third bridge not mentioned in his plans. He shrugs his shoulders and starts…until the bridge collapses beneath him, one tile at a time.

As the final panel drops, Bek leaps and grabs the glowing eye. Bek hits the floor and dozens of eager scorpions surround him, until they back away from the searing light of Horus’s right eye.

Bek returns to get Zaya, who has been found out. They escape on a chariot. Urshu, a terrific archer in his spare time, kills Zaya from a great distance.

Bek and his beloved Zara and some extras.
Bek and his beloved Zara and some extras.

Zaya, in her dying words, tells Bek that death is not the end. So begins her journey. She follows Anubis into the underworld, on a days-long walk toward the final gate between life and afterlife.

Zaya is a passive character. Bek, who has the gaul to bargain with a god, wants her returned to life, and won’t take “no” for an answer. Zaya’s primary contribution to the story is her unwavering faith in the gods, particularly Horus.

After Bek learns Horus has manipulated him, Zaya convinces her beloved to give Horus another chance. In the end, Horus chooses wisely.

Our third helper is Hathor (Elodie Yung). The goddess of love plays love as lust. She tries to seduce Horus on his coronation day. Hathor is saucy, tempting Horus as he sits naked in the bath. Horus ignores her to dress for his big day. Just before leaving to start the festivities, he proposes to make her his queen. I think. Hathor’s taken aback by the request. Love and lust are her things, not power.

Hathor’s is a sordid history. She spent some time with Anubis as the Mistress of the West, a title she now dislikes. A gift from Horus–a bracelet of 42 or so gems–is the only thing preventing her from zooming back into the world of soul-sucking demons.

Hathor, goddess of love (meaning self-sacrifice, in this case)
Hathor, goddess of love (meaning self-sacrifice, in this case)

She parlayed her time with Horus into bedding down with Set, and without losing her saucy ways. After Set’s usurpation, he returns from a battle to his now-red bedroom and asks if Hathor missed him. “I have to miss you,” she says. They make love.

All this bluster masks her heart, which is two sizes too big for Set’s world. She’s touched by Bek’s love of Zaya, a love that will carry him to Death and beyond, come what may.

Bek’s love of Zaya moves Hathor to give him the one thing that’s her own, the bracelet keeping her from the underworld demons. This bracelet will pay for Zaya’s passage into the new afterlife, where money, and nothing else, gets you in.

Our final sidekick is Toth, god of wisdom. Chadwick Boseman plays Toth, a wiseacre god who sees the world as his most vexing puzzle.

Toth, god of smarts, thinks, and knowledges
Toth, god of smarts, thinks, and knowledges

Toth does that thing you do when lightly considering a problem: rest one elbow on your other hand, letting the first hand droop a bit, that index finger poised for a contemplation assist by tapping your lip.

On the way to the Sphinx, Horus and company stop by Toth’s place. Deep in a huge swamp, Toth ponders all of Ra’s creation. He’s assisted by hundreds of copies of himself, because who better than the smartest god alive to assist anyone?

These copies move like clockwork throughout the compound, a large library. Horus finds Toth considering the nature, the Truth, of lettuce. He claims to have recorded 47% of all knowledge, “I’m not even half done.”

I liked Toth best for not giving a damn about the whole struggle. He only joined the quest to defeat Set because he thought the Sphinx riddle would be a great challenge. It was. He didn’t guess right the first time.

Henchmen (1/8)

Set has an army of red-clad, gold-faced warriors forged in, or from, the desert sands. They are effective killing machines and love gold. That’s about it.

Two snake charmers are eager to please Set after the god’s first attempt to find Horus ends in his death.

Horus and Bek journey to a former garden of Osiris’s, now a dusty waste, deep in the desert. There they meet two enormous, fire-breathing snakes ridden by these women. There’s some trickery, thanks to Hathor’s magic eyes, but the women die soon after they take center stage.

Stunts (1/6)

Most of the fighting took place amongst gods, and often in their non-anthropomorphic forms. Each bout seemed like a video game. It’s common in platform fighting games for each character to have special moves. When they use these moves, the POV shifts to a swirling, character-centric view as the move is enacted.

Gods of Egypt is a bit like that. The gods fight and the camera encircles them. The human stunt actors try a few moves with their weapons, and then the fight ends. There’s little here to excite because the effects are so heavy.

Climax (2/6)

Set’s been ravaging Egypt for a year, killing rebel gods and their acolytes. He’s also built an obelisk to Ra, the Creator, to show how humble he is. With his stolen wings he flies to Ra’s sun barge to chat with ol’ Dad.

“I noticed the tower,” Ra says. “If it were any taller it would be in my way.” The Biblical god destroyed the last tower that got in His way; Ra just cracks jokes.

Set isn’t in the mood. “I rule all that breathes, and all that is breathed upon.” But he wants more. Why did Ra not let him have children? As a test. (This sounds like a coverup answer. When your kid asks, “Dad, why didn’t you get me a Christmas present?” And you answer, “Uh, because it’s a test, to see how you would react!”)

Set’s test is to take Ra’s place as chaos repeller. There can be no greater burden or honor. Set’s not into that. He’d rather have immortality in the Egypt he’s built. And the only way to do that is to eat the afterlife.

Ra challenges Set; he wants to destroy the world. “Not destroy, reshape,” Set says.

They’ve reached an impasse.

Ra blasts Set with his sword, but Set is many gods now and can survive it. He knocks Ra from his boat to fall to the Earth and steals Ra’s sword, the final piece in his plan.

Chaos is free to attack Egypt and, eventually, the afterlife. I’m confused on the details here as well. Set stands atop Ra’s obelisk and calls to chaos, a dark worming churning black clouds as it moves. It seeks the source of all creation, apparently, which is a few blocks from the obelisk.

Horus and Bek fly in a bird car to fight. They convince Urshu to let them into the obelisk, now near completion. Urshu and Bek fight inside the tower as Horus climbs the hieroglyphs outside it.

Horus and Set fight stop the obelisk’s pyramidal cap. That means there’s a lot of sliding going on. Set can fly, but Horus can’t, because he doesn’t have his other eye and cannot transform without a whole body, remember?

Set, who already beat Horus in a fight, has Horus’s other eye now, plus wings, Ra’s sword, and Toth’s brain. Should be the easiest victory in the Egypt’s sordid divine conflicts.

Set breaks Horus’s staff quickly and knocks away one of those pieces. He laughs. It’s fun for him to kill his nephew. Horus smirks.”I’m just the bait,” he says.

Bek pops in to steal back Horus’s other eye. That will definitely even the score. Bek throws the eye toward Horus as a shortstop throws to first, but Bek has never heard of baseball. It’s an old game but not that old. The throw is terrible and the jeweled orb bounces down the pyramid side. Bek slides as well.

Horus must choose: save his beloved eye or his partner in crime? He chooses Bek. They fall from the tower, but Horus transforms anyway, and without his other eye.

With Bek safely on the ground, Horus flies back to fight Set. They streak through the air. Set has wings but he’s not accustomed to them like Horus with his own.

Set shoots red bolts of rage from Ra’s sword. Horus dodges. They fly into the obelisk, mostly empty but for wooden platforms.

Horus choke-slams Set into a wall. They crash through the top of the tower, where Horus rips off Sets wings. The god plummets hundreds of feet, blasting holes in Ra’s tower as he drops.

The tower collapses on Set, who crawls away, leaving a trail of gold blood. Horus, clutching Ra’s sword, stands above him. Set taunts his nephew. “Behold the new king,” he chokes out. He reminds Horus that he showed him mercy before, by taking his eyes rather than his life.

“I won’t make that mistake,” Horus says. He raises the sword above his uncle’s chest and ends the reign of Set.

Horus flies to Ra to return to him his sword. Ra blasts away the beast of a chaos demon and saves the day, saves all the days.

Meanwhile, Horus lands in town. A local child has found his other eye and returns it to him. Horus finds Bek and tells him that he could have been a god. “What would I be the god of?” Bek asks. Horus answers, “The impossible.”

Bek dies. It’s real sad. He’s taken to Horus’s exile house to lay beside Zaya. They meet in the afterlife. Then they’re both resurrected by Ra. Everything’s fine. So is death the end or not?

Jokes (0/4)

Gods of Egypt plays its tale seriously. These are gods, after all, not a bunch of mere mortals and their mortal problems. Got to be important problems.

The funniest god is Ra, creator of all. He’s got a sly side to him. He’s the one fending off chaos twice a day, so squabbles amongst his creations must appear petty.

Bek is as dismissive of problems as Ra. He’s funny because he’s endlessly confident in his skills.

Toth is funny for not caring about anyone else’s problems.

Having said all this, Gods of Egypt is not funny.

Setting (3/4)

The gods of Egypt spend much of their time in–surprise–Egypt. Not your father’s Egypt. The world of Horus, Osiris, Set, and the puny mortals is full of color, where ruins aren’t yet so, and the people seem happy.

Many of the gods live in the city of, uh, a city, where people live. It’s never named, but the city on an island in the Nile is paradise.

The film opens with the camera swooping through the Nile valley toward this island, one full of gardens a throngs of happy people in its streets. There’s even a L train, or at least its platform. Winged guardian statues protect the L train line.

Egypt, or at least this part of Egypt, is blessed with white marble and plaster houses. No one is wanting, it seems, in Egypt. Even the thieves are boisterous young men with boundless confidence.

This is the world of Horus and Osiris. Set comes from the desert. Later we see Set’s desert, and it is bleak. Red sand everywhere, in colors similar to the electric sandstorm in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Horus and company must travel to many places in Gods of Egypt. The Sphinx’s pyramid was an interesting one. Nestled amongst the hellish desert, the pyramid was made of shifting sand blocks. Inside is a wheel that, when turned, stops the shifting process.

Bek is charged with entering this pyramid. He claims to have seen the plans for it. He lied. Bek’s the world’s luckiest guesser, though, because he found the correct entrance. Imagine thousands of blocks shifting in less than a second, each obscuring the true entrance.

Bek enters the pyramid and finds a large empty space. The same shifting principles apply, this time with stairs. Parts of staircases flit in and out of existence, all leading to the wheel. Bek again gets lucky, choosing the right path and using those gold-medal gymnastics skills to reach the wheel and reveal the correct path.

After they answer the Sphinx’s riddle, Bek almost pours the water of life into the desert’s heart, which would weaken Set. But there’s Set, convincing Bek that Horus has lied to him about resurrecting Zaya. Set also stole Toth’s brain when he wasn’t looking.

Bek doesn’t pour the water, losing it to Set. When Set leaves, the pyramid collapses and they all escape in the nick of time.

Zaya and Bek hang with Anubis in the underworld, purgatory, pre-afterlife, whatever. Horus flies up to Ra’s sky boat. Ra lives on an open-air barge that drags the sun across the flat Earth. The boat’s layout evokes those metal foot measurers you used as a child to get the right shoe size. Ra’s space life seems as cold as those metal devices, especially when they touched your foot after a sock’s warm embrace was removed.

As Ra flips from the day side to the night side of Earth, he embiggens and shoots fire bolts at the chaos demon chugging through the night. Without Ra’s effort each day, Earth would be devoured.

Commentary (0/2)

I’m seeing Donald Trump in every movie villain these days. Set is no exception. He builds a huge tower, the biggest tower, to Ra. He gathers all the best parts of the other gods to make himself into a super god. He vanquishes his political opponents. He makes the price of afterlife one of gold.

Trump hasn’t yet murdered his political opponents. He probably won’t. Let’s hope not.

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

Sigh. Yet again we have Europeans playing non-Europeans. I don’t know what to say about this anymore, except that it’s a bad trend and should end.

Hathor is an interesting case. She’s forced into the tired trope of sacrificing herself so a man can have a better life. Hathor donates her bracelet, the only item protecting her from damnation, so Bek can reunite send Zaya to the afterlife. It’s a noble deed, by far the noblest in the movie.

Look at how "Egyptian" these folks are.
Look at how “Egyptian” these folks are.

After Bek dies, Horus gets sad and asks Ra to resurrect him. And Zaya. They both come back to life. So Hathor’s sacrifice meant NOTHING. Is she returned to her divine status? She is not. Horus flies away, as the film ends, to find her. So that’s something.

Others

  • One of Set’s god parts is Osiris’s heart. Osiris was known to be a just god, so wouldn’t the heart have made Set a just god, or is he capable of having the heart and not using it?
  • An old lady donates a metal ring to enter the afterlife. The ring does not outweigh a feather.
  • Toth, who earlier thought Bek was a stray baboon, tells him that his brain would liquify if he tried to tell him how Ra created the world.

Summary (25/68): 37%

Bek was a pesky mortal, and Coster-Waldau just isn’t that good an actor. Hathor and Toth would have made a better pair to fight Set than the two we were given.

An effects vehicle lacking in many effect-driven scenes, Gods of Egypt fails to deliver an enticing plot, though it at least gives us cool imagery.