Whitewashed ‘Gods of Egypt’ offers junk food fun

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau arrives for the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre at L.A. on Aug. 25, 2014. Coster-Waldau plays the god Horus in "Gods of Egypt." Wally Skalij via Tribune News Service

Epic battles, a classic apocalyptic plot and self-sacrificing romances — “Gods of Egypt” contains all the markings of a crowd-pleasing film. The movie follows the journey of a young thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who, by the most unfortunate of circumstances, ends up helping the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reclaim Egypt and also his eyes from the usurper Set (Gerard Butler); this is also part of a bargain to recover his love, Zaya (Courtney Eaton). In the epic tradition, the heroes — underdog Bek and lovable jerk Horus — (spoiler alert) end up saving Egypt. Since it follows familiar tropes in a fantasy film, plotwise “Gods of Egypt” fails to amaze, but it is not an unenjoyable movie. Film critics may hate it for the uncreative storyline and characters and historians for its whitewashed portrayal of ancient Egyptian culture, but “Gods of Egypt” still thrills with its action and larger-than-life themes.

The immediately glaring issues concerning “Gods of Egypt” are its predominantly white casting for a film set in ancient Egypt and its mangling of Egyptian mythology. While the story of Set killing his own brother, Horus’ father, Osiris for the throne and Horus wrangling the throne back from his uncle do exist, “Gods of Egypt” totally alters the plot and inserts human actors that should not be there, including a deus-ex-machina-y Ra (Geoffrey Rush). It also features a sphinx riddle scene that is undeniably inspired by the sphinx in the Greek myth of Oedipus (which is confusing to say the least because, unlike its malevolent Greek cousin, the Egyptian sphinx is predominantly male and benevolent). It seems almost unfair to call “Gods of Egypt” an adaptation of the original Egyptian myth; perhaps it can be more accurately described as a film that takes the premise of the myth and turns it into a typical action-fantasy story. It is impolite at best, offensive at worst. Yet, despite all these things that make it a movie that should rationally be boring, tasteless and hard to watch, “Gods of Egypt” is actually rather entertaining.

The appeal of “Gods of Egypt” lies in the fact that it does not take itself entirely seriously with historical accuracy and in-character depictions. It does not try to tell the story of gods; it instead endeavors to relate some motivating and inspiring notions about mankind. Coster-Waldau’s Horus does not behave like a god; he acts like some manchild who banishes himself to his own room to sulk instead of work out a plan to save his nation. Hathor (Elodie Yung) is unashamedly opportunistic and pragmatic (but for good reasons…reasons that are a great deal better than the lack of reasons Horus has for sulking just because his eyes got dug out and kingdom snatched), and Thoth (Chadwick Boseman) is delightfully narcissistic and arrogant. Yet, despite all their flaws, the good guys triumph with the very much mortal Bek playing perhaps the most instrumental role in keeping the entire thing together. Sure, it is the typical, predictable, expected kind of conclusion, but, nevertheless, it appeals to the audience, who is largely human (hopefully). By humanizing the titular gods, “Gods of Egypt” makes Horus’ story probably more relatable and less like an ancient history documentary.

“Gods of Egypt” is the furthest thing from cultural and historical reality, but that is precisely why it works; it offers complete escapism. With the flying giant scarab chariots, Set’s Transformer-esque makeover and Ra’s spaceship, the viewer knows the movie is not grounded in reality. It is not as distressing to witness the apocalypse when the world is literally being destroyed by a giant space worm via its guzzling the Nile (though the viewer still feels distress and sympathy for the characters, who seem to be losing the battle at this point in the film). Going into “Gods of Egypt,” one does not expect to get an educational portrayal of a classic ancient Egyptian myth; the viewer goes in to drown themselves in fantasy and, in return, get imagery reminiscent of “The Mummy”(1999). As long as one can ignore the blatant appropriation of Egyptian history (and many, probably, should not) and instead see it as just another far-fetched, almost campy fantasy film, it does a fine job. Its characters are sympathetic, it is reasonably paced, and it is a hell of a ride. Sure, objectively speaking it is not a great movie, but hey, it is actually rather fun, in its own implausible, silly, way.


Summary

While it mangles ancient Egyptian history and culture, "Gods of Egypt" manages to provide sympathetic characters for an action-fantasy joyride.

3.5 stars
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