By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
I can’t believe the level of hate by movie-goers and critics have for Gods of Egypt is still growing. Not since Fantastic Four has there been such a vile response to a product. The Last Airbender was panned way before it even started pre production. Myself, I have to thank producer Michael Bay for decimating my childhood memories of Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; the bulk of merchandise I see now are based on his work instead of being generation one. With this movie set in an Egyptian-type world, can the director, Alex Proyas, destroy all that I love and admire about Ancient Egypt? I grew up enamoured by the mystique this world represented, especially with its art and myths.
Technically, this film’s plot is a loose interpretation of the story, The Contendings of Horus and Seth. Instead of having a contest of champions, where these deities are tested to see who will be the next King of Egypt, Osiris (Bryan Brown) and Isis (Rachael Blake) are ready to crown Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). However, the always jealous Seth (Gerard Butler) arrives to put a stop to it and kill all the gods. He leads an army who look more like the Persian Immortals from 300 and perhaps that’s the joke everyone is missing. This film is meant to poke fun at mythology instead of being inspired by it. When looking at the mistakes, the film is very silly and mind-numbing, but when looking at the nods to the lore of yore, the connections made will only be familiar to people who knows them.
In this world, Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) are at the hubbub of the chaos that awakens around them. When circumstances (the two feuding gods) force them apart, Bek decides to steal the Eye of Horus previously stolen by Seth so it can be returned so he can gain the God of Air’s favour. Sadly, the world has fallen since this deity was defeated in battle (both his eyes were taken by Seth) and by faith alone is not enough to convince Horus to be the savior he could be. He looks like a Kurt Russell wannabe from Escape from New York.
The movie stumbles with its ideas of deciding if it is supposed to take ideas from Egyptian mythology or be an independent fantasy product. The film makes itself clear that it’s using established ideas from the myths. However, a few details lost is the fact Osiris does not have a penis and Isis lived to a ripe old age. This film decides to have her commit suicide after Seth’s usurping of the throne. The legends that’s supposed to follow has to make sense. That includes Seth’s role next to Ra. Funerary art shows Seth (in cat form) attacking Apep (Apophis) and this detail is discussed when the two fictional counterparts talk about his role in the pantheon. Just why this snake looks like a Whispering Death from How to Train Your Dragon is a mystery, but when elevated to H.P. Lovecraft sized gargantuan levels, this lord of darkness can easily have the pointy nosed Seth (also known as Sutekh) wetting himself.
Honestly, Seth is perfectly cast. He’s the god of foreign lands, a bringer of storms and commander of unclean beasts. Gerard Butler represents those aspects easily because of the roles he played in the past and his heritage. The film has minotaur-like creatures, and they are boars who loyally serve him; they go searching for Bek to retrieve the eye he stole.
Accurately alluded to is Seth’s relationship with Nephthys. She’s the logical one between the two, and this film shows that their marriage was not a happy one. Seth is quick to dispose of her and take Hathor as his consort. She represents sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. While her role is downplayed, her representation is the best part of this film. Her angry side, Sekhmet, is put into check and it’s a shame the movie did not reveal anything of her rage to rival a lioness protecting her cubs. Another detail exactly revealed is his relationship with two foreign goddesses, Anat (Abbey Lee) and Astarte (Yaya Deng) who are seen riding snakes in the film.
While this film’s length left me feeling winded, I did not find the production a total mess. As a hobby Egyptologist, there were small details that I appreciated. Whoever reigned over Egypt dictated the terms of how to achieve a happy Afterlife. Under Osiris’ rule (and ostensibly Horus), good deeds dictated the outcome of the weighing of the heart ceremony. However, through Seth’s, judgement is outweighed by how the deceased can buy their way through. I wanted to see more of this underground world, but I already knew every soul had to travel through nine gates and stay on the golden brick road to avoid the demons lurking about before reaching the Hall of Judgement — where the undead Osiris stood to judge. Anubis’ role was that of a guide, and he was sadly underutilized. The CG creature looked bad. To ideally render this anthropomorphic creature is tough. The original movie Stargate got the conceptualization right and it’s unlikely this movie was going to be a science fiction epic when production was announced.
The heavy use of green screen effects was too much and I really hoped this movie showed a Sphinx as traditionally sculpted instead of taken from the reject pile of sketches from Sony’s God of War games. The story itself was not entirely terrible. The problem really laid in the writers indecision to either pay tribute to the mythology that inspired the film or expand beyond it.
The movie ultimately felt like a surreal ancient astronaut idea gone wrong. I liked the design of the Solar Barque that Ra lived on, but just where this film sits is with the clichéd ideas to carry the plot forth instead of wholly original concepts. Instead of following the guidelines established in the Stargate movie (I feel that movie and the sequel books by Bill McCay set the bar), it went Prince of Persia with rushed effects work ala The Mummy Returns. The power suits that both Horus and Seth transform in and out of did not convey the essence of the deities they are supposed to represent.
The gods are more like the Nephilim; their role as saviours is imagined by these mortals instead of themselves. All they wanted to do was bring civilization to a world still imagined as flat. Their powers are shaped by the belief, and eventually, as the world at large gets explored, just maybe it will become a sphere the Greek philosopher Pythagoras knows it as. For now, just where the water the Nile empties itself onto is endless. To see it expand requires taking this franchise into comics if it survives the week.
2½ Stars out of 5