Eight foot tall. Gold blooded. Goddess-shagger. Scottish. To be honest this is how I’ve always imagined Gerard Butler in real life. Though I’d probably draw the line at referring to him as God of Darkness – I’ve never been to Paisley, his home town, but it can’t be that bad.
But in Gods of Middle England, Sorry, Gods of Egypt, that is also his character Set – a sexy, brooding Scotsman in a chainmail kilt with a beard and a nice line in sarcastic quips before he kills you.
Gods of Egypt is the biggest load of hokum I’ve seen in a long while, and I sat through Inferno last week. But as long as you completely suspend disbelief parts of it are a lot of fun, as several extremely well-spoken English gods and a sarky Scots deity with a chip on his shoulder run around killing each other.
Because more than anything, Gods of Egypt is about faaaamleeee, as they say in Eastenders. In fact just imagine Set, Lord of Darkness, and Horus, God of Air, as the Phil and Grant Mitchell of ancient Egypt and you’re almost there.
There’s going to be a coronation as Osiris, Set’s brother and King of Egypt, is preparing to hand over the throne and crown to his son Horus. Bek, a perky young thief and a mortal, is coming to the coronation with his girlfriend Zaya. At the coronation the whole family of gods is assembled including Osiris, Horus, Nephthys the winged Goddess of Protection, and Hathor Goddess of Love. Thousands of mortals are also watching.
And then… Set arrives! Striding around the stage, he is a black sheep momentarily restored to the family fold, pretending initially to be glad to be back with his family before letting all those old filial resentments spill out as he fights his family. It’s the Old Testament but without anyone wearing a hideous smelly blanket. And it’s certainly a more entertaining fight than the one between Batman and Superman in BvS – Dawn of Justice.
Then he turns into a black robot dog, pokes out Horus’s eyes and seizes the Throne. And now that Set is King of All Scotland, I mean Egypt, it’s time to let his subjects know that things are going to be very different around here from now on.
Fast forwarding a few months, Zaya is now a slave working for Urshu, Set’s architect, and believes that only the now-blind Horus can save the country from their vicious ruler. She gives Bek the plans to Set’s treasure house and Bek breaks in and manages to steal back one of Horus’s eyes. With Zeya killed during their escape, Horus agrees to bring her back if Bek gives him the first eye, and Horus if you can’t find your other eye, check out your granny’s dining room doors as they look just like those crystal doorknobs John Lewis sold in the 1980s.
Geoffrey Rush (the gods’ Grandad Ra) and Gerard Butler later have a really quite affecting two-hander scene on the glittery space station where Ra spends his days looking for Matt Damon, I mean fighting a hideous beast called Apophis who wants to consume the world and the Afterlife. It’s not quite Shakespearean but it is quite moving in its father-son dynamic as Set tries to get answers to questions that have left him feeling so neglected (so much bitterness, even involving gods, can be traced back to a kitchen table family drama leaving someone feeling left out. I’m willing to bet Set is, like me, a middle child).
I’m not going to tell you the rest of the plot partly as I’m not sure I fully understood what was going on, but as Bek is quite annoying and Horus looks like Snake Plissken from Escape from New York, you end up rooting for nasty wisecracking Set to survive. And rest assured that there’s a big fight at the end when giant blocks of polystyrene fall on everyone.
Gods of Egypt caught a lot of flack for whitewashing, and rightly so. I know that God is traditionally supposed to be an upper middle class Englishman, but still. Only one of the gods is black (Thoth, God of Wisdom) and I’m not sure that the scene of him with about 50 clones is the way to increase diversity in film.
At times Gods of Egypt seems like a cross between Cleopatra, Carry on Cleo and Tremors (yes, there are giant worms!). But I do love sword and sandal epics, even though they usually go on far too long and have terrible dialogue: “I’m the goddess of TOO MUCH!” exclaims Hathor when she is back with Horus who says her sheer dress, a gift from Set, is Too Much. (Personally I thought that dress was Too Little but I’m British and slowly turning into my own mother.)
The jokes are almost all rubbish except Set’s (at one point he throws open the curtains to reveal the tallest blackest tower I’ve ever seen, soaring into the sky in his honour. “Can’t you make it any bigger?” jokes Set as the architect quakes in his boots and thinks about adding another storey).
With fantasy films you either play them for laughs with knowing winks to camera or you play them straight – there’s nothing wrong with maintaining that fourth wall even if it’s made of polystyrene. But Gods of Egypt just doesn’t seem confident enough to nail its colours to a particular mast (comedy, epic, fantasy, whatever) and some of the actors don’t seem like they’ve bought into the idea of the film at all.
That said it’s entertaining, and ravishing to look at. It wouldn’t surprise me if it became a regular Christmas afternoon filler, but you’re not going to see it winning any awards except maybe Best Film Called Gods of Egypt (an award I’m happy to sponsor if Set would like to come round and collect it personally).