Pharaoh's War Review: What is it good for?
Updated: Apr 17
Dir: Raouf Abd El Aziz
Release Date: 2019
“An ex-military man with a mysterious past leads a group of Egyptian refugees through the desert and must protect them from a group of evil mercenaries.”
The plot synopsis you have there from the IMDB page actually lasts for no more than the 10 opening minutes as the evil mercenaries take them hostage straight away. However, I shall start from the very beginning in a minute.
The two ‘heavyweight’ names attached to this film are and Mike Tyson and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (The Mountain from GOT) but this is really a Middle Eastern action flick from Egypt showcasing their own brand of action thriller. There is some dubbing of dialogue, which is quite ridiculous in places, but I am going to suggest the script was written this way too. I’ll tell you one thing they love over there in their action flicks; Slow Motion and bombastic music, which is two things! This film is close to 2 bastard hours long and I’ll bet nearly an hour of it is in slow motion. If you’re breaking the 90-minute rule for an Action movie, you’d better be making an amazing film. Sadly, this is not the case here. Well, let’s get to it…….
Some stock news footage of unrest, rioting, political coups, military force, crying refugees merges into a crazy long line of people crossing a desert being led by Mike Tyson. They get buzzed by some helicopters and they all crouch down as if they won’t be seen if they do that. Some pick-up, jeeps and the like, rumble to a stop in front of them and we get a BIG, slow-motion reveal of mega bad guy, Bjornsson accompanied by some suspenseful music. Obviously, an imposing figure such as he needs a scary name to make people fear him and he lets us have it with both barrels. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Frank!”, he says, and the music stops as though the needle just scratched off the record at such a revelation.
Tyson plays a guy called Rick so they both have kind of bland names but at least they are easy. I have no idea what the other characters are called so I am going to refer to them as their ‘speciality’ reason for recruitment. Frank tells his masked henchmen to go and get an attractive woman from the refugees along with her father and declares they will play a little game. With a knife each, one of them must kill the other or they will both be shot dead. Tricky one, right?
Frank counts down as they both say they should be killed by the other but you kind of know who will get the blade of doom. Bjornsson has an odd way of talking, which is basically just shouting and has a build-up of saliva which adds a bit of spit to a lot of his lines. Regardless of this, the father/daughter saga rumbles on as they both plead to be killed. The daughter declares, “I can’t! I can’t!”, and then proves she’s only joking by stabbing her father to death. When the henchmen move in to take the kids, Tyson gets to fight a few of them but is overpowered and is also taken away.
More grandiose music as we cut to a sports car pulling up at a nice house and some footstep sound effects as a guy walks in slow-motion to the house, he goes inside and sees a woman who was previously seen as a refugee having her son taken away. “Where’s Abdullah?”, he demands, telling us the name of the son, she tells him he’s been taken away to which he responds with a hearty slap across her face. This man is Pharaoh! Obviously, that slap has instantly warmed us to him as the hero of the film. Apparently, they were going through a rocky patch so she took their son away to flee the country. That didn’t go so well so she’s back and asking him that, even though they will probably get a divorce, could he at least go and rescue Abdullah first. Of course he will. He is Pharaoh! What a guy!
Cut to market stall where a big fella is causing a ruckus by seemingly killing a man who was responsible for sending him to prison a while back. Timing is awful as the newly dead guy’s son is approaching with his gang. They have a massive fight which is plain ridiculous in parts as he tries to keep them all at bay with a ladder. A shout goes up of, “Argentinian!”, and Pharaoh arrives to help him. They have some banter while fighting together, pretty much all of the market is destroyed and, after they double team the son (oo-er) they agree to join forces to rescue Abdullah. ‘Argentinian’ points out they can’t do it alone and Pharaoh tells us he knows just the team to put together…… Dramatic music which plays loudly…
Immediate cut to a circus and a female acrobat is doing some trapeze stunts and instead of a knife thrower, we have a crossbow expert shooting balloons as she spins on a wheel. Asking for a volunteer, the ‘Archer’, as he shall now be known, sees Pharaoh standing very close to the proceedings and chooses him. As the female goes to bring him over, we discover they used to be lovers. She will now be known as ‘The Ex’. The three of them talk openly which is odd as the circus audience are listening to everything they say before they go for a classic apple on Pharaoh’s head being shot with the crossbow. After the show, Pharaoh tells them there’s a job which will get them $10m (which was news to me as well) and he’s off to recruit Saeed as well.
Turns out that Saeed is in prison so he ain’t signing up any time soon. He does, however make them take his son, Hattata, along who is apparently the finest explosives guy in the land. We immediately cut to him on a movie set where he accidentally sets off all the rigged explosives too early and destroys the set entirely. Hattata is the comedy relief character you see but raises no laughs at all.
He’s being chased by the movie crew and is hauled into Pharaoh’s car by Argentinian who reassures him they know him and his father by sharing that Hattata has a birthmark in his private parts. He is convinced to meet them but when he asks where exactly, the reply is, “By the birthmark”, which I’m pretty sure makes no sense in any language. Hattata will now be known as ‘Bombs’. The final recruit for this mission is some guy called Yunis who is being held by drug dealers for stealing their stash or some shit. Turns out that he can do martial arts and parkour which means he escapes them and leads them a merry dance around the rooftops while smoking a joint. He is now known as ‘Parkour’. That’s your gang of misfits, the unlikely heroes and so on.
Before the team all turn up at Pharaoh’s house, he tells his wife to stick to the script which I think refers to the story they’ve made up and not because the actress often improvises on set. They all arrive, some inevitable bad blood between the wife and The Ex and Pharaoh lays down the following: Wife went to work with for wealthy man and took their son with her. The wealthy guy died and buried money under his house. Only wife knows where it is. Their son is now dead as well according to them. Frank runs territory the house is on. They go in, find the cash, get out and everyone is happy. There’s an unusual bit of dialogue where they discuss peanuts which was totally irrelevant but that’s the plan.
Who’s in? The Ex says she’s in only for Pharaoh to tell her that she is definitely OUT and she should go home. Not entirely sure why she was invited to the meeting and allowed to stay for whole plan if he didn’t want her to join in. Archer is also out but is convinced after a mention of the dead son again. The Ex doesn’t seem sure of it all and has a chat to the wife. Wife got pregnant so had to marry Pharaoh. She didn’t mean to split the couple up. Backstory ended. Onwards!
First, they are heading to Beirut where Abu Jamil is waiting. Who? Just some old guy apparently. They land and emerge from the airport only for The Ex to already be there waiting for them. Caught the first flight out apparently. She is told to get the first flight back again and they all walk away from her. This old guy has a load of guns for them and they all get to talk about the dangerous mission, their past and smoke a joint. Now then, how to get across the border? Abu Jamil has already got that sorted as well. What a guy. Well, his plan is actually a bit of a shit one as it happens.
They hide in a Gas tanker, like actually in the fuel itself. They are wearing plastic suits which I can’t believe are actually waterproof and when they are stopped and a guy climbs up to check the cargo, they all submerge themselves fully so he can’t see them. Well, it works I guess and they all climb back out once they make it safely across. Before they make their merry way across country, The Ex climbs out from UNDER the tanker where she was hiding all along! Like the border guards would check inside the truck but not bother with anywhere else? Anyway, Pharaoh tells her to fuck off again and they walk away. She fails to fuck off yet again and tags along for the rest of the film, actually proving herself to be very useful throughout. Certainly more useful than the wife who offers no particular skill-set apart from looking scared.
We get some random guy lounging about on a jeep. They use the good old ‘throw a stone so he investigates’ trick and he falls for it like an idiot. Well, they overpower him and we head off to an old, war-torn building scene. They drive straight into sight with the guy they just overpowered tied to the front of the car. Pharaoh gets out of the car and shouts some guy (Assad) who is up in the building with a lot of armed men. He claims he comes in peace and the fact he hasn’t killed this guy proves it.
He just wants to talk. The rest of the gang are sneaking about, some are climbing ropes and the like ready to strike if needed. Of course they are needed as Assad and his men open fire pretty much immediately. We now get to see the team in action for the first real time and each of them use their speciality to good, if unlikely, effect. Argentinian takes a lot of bad guys out just by being a hard bastard, The Ex does a lot of wire work, flipping about the place like The Matrix and shooting which looks shit to be honest. Parkour does some as well but some hand to hand as well. Archer snipes a few and saves a few lives. Can’t honestly remember what Bombs is doing, probably messing with his birthmark.
Quite a few people are thrown to their deaths, shot dead, stabbed, strangled and so on but it all ends and Pharaoh and Assad become friends. What a sad waste of human life. And potential allies. Still, Pharaoh gives Assad a story about the kidnapped son and asks for help to overthrow Frank and return his land and people to peaceful times. Assad goes for it and only Archer seems to notice that Pharaoh’s story has changed slightly.
50 minutes and Frank finally reappears to just be massive. He’s putting some gold bullion in a locked metal container while two of his best men fight to see who ‘gets’ the woman who stabbed her father at the beginning of the film. It’s like time has stood still at the bad guy camp while the good guys have done bloody loads. One guy in a bandana eventually wins against a big bald fella who looks like a football hooligan but Frank walks over, backhands him off his feet and declares/shouts, “SHE’S MINE!”. And we head back to the other camp…
Archer is pointing out to the gang that Pharaoh changed his story about his son but nobody else seems bothered in the slightest. Assad tells them that Frank has around 200-300 men but Bombs assures them that he will make a bomb which will kill 1000 men which seems highly implausible.
Back at Frank’s place, which should have been the sign hanging over them, they already know about these guys turning up to cause trouble so a team head off to find them. Frank then heads off to a room where he is holding another hostage. Remember Mike Tyson as Rick? He’s apparently still in this film and he’s chained to a wall at Frank’s. Frank and Rick engage in a who can talk the most ridiculously competition and it is a close-run thing.
The script gives Rick a narrow victory by asking Mike Tyson to say, ‘Hostages’. That’s almost bullying in my book. Frank asks Rick to join him and his gang but Rick holds firm and refuses. “Your time will come!”, Frank shouts. “I’m not afraid to die”, shoots back Rick which prompts Frank to leave. Why Frank hasn’t already just killed Rick is a mystery we will never unravel as he really has no reason to keep him alive and just throw empty threats of one day he might die around the place.
Anyway, once again, onwards.
Frank’s men roll up at a village and we meet Assad’s sister who fills us in that since Assad left to live in that old building we saw the fight in earlier, she hasn’t heard from him nor wants to. The bad guys still do a search and somehow don’t find them even though they are all standing on a hill with the sunlight behind them in clear sight and looking through binoculars at the entire scene. Frank’s goons terrorise the sister a bit more and give her a slap and they even hit the disabled guy who tries to stand up to them on her behalf. Poor guy. They leave some men there to keep an eye out for the group and get out of there. They don’t have to wait long as Pharaoh and his team launch a ridiculous attack on them, somehow killing all of them – even the wife finally gets to do something as she blows up a car. They celebrate the slaughter by walking through the smoke in slow motion to the sister and the town folk who are all still just standing in the middle of the square.
Well, the sister gives Assad a mighty slap around the face as she’s not a fan of him leaving them all to the mercy of Frank and now he’ll be back to kill everyone when he finds out his men have been slaughtered. Pharaoh ‘assures’ them that Frank won’t kill them as he needs them to be afraid of him so he can terrorise them some more. Seems a bit like he’s making that shit up but they kind of go for it. He declares they are there to help them be free of Frank and his big clutches. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend and the friend of my enemy is my enemy”, he ludicrously adds but the townspeople love it and we get a, “I’m with you!” moment where people individually step forwards to join the cause. Ridiculous dramatic music is of course blasting out for this.
There’s a kind of celebration with some campfire banter, some laughing, joking, a few songs and the like. Archer questions the wife regarding the money, their son and so on just to remind us that he suspects something is wrong even though nobody else cares. The wife and Pharaoh have a chat as well and just when you think that this is where they realise they should make another go of things, he tells her that after this is over, he will be taking Abdullah away from her and she’ll never see either of them again. What a guy!
Well, after a party like that, the town is deserted when Frank’s men roll back in to see how the scouting party they left has got on, only to find Pharaoh is sitting in the middle of the square, all nonchalant and shit.
He gets up and tells them he’s gonna kick some ass which prompts the question, “Aren’t you gonna need more men?”. That is the cue for the townsfolk to emerge and the ambush to begin. Lots of slow motion, lots of gunfire, grenade launchers (?!) and martial arts. It is at this point that I realised, nobody would have a damn clue who was on which side during these gunfights. There’s no uniforms and people really are just running around the place firing, the sand kicking up as well makes visibility even more difficult so how do they know they aren’t just killing the enemies of their enemies and not the actual enemies?
The Ex gets into a spot of bother and has a gunman towering over her only for the wife to empty her gun into the bad guy in an incredible display of overkill. They just about get time to share a smile and a nod of the head before the wife is shot from behind and we get a super slow-motion stumbling, a silent scream, and some loud, dramatic music. As is customary, all other fighting stops so the gravity of this scene can be appreciated for a minute. Eventually, Archer shoots the gunman who seems to have been standing still and doing nothing since he shot the wife.
For reference, The Ex seems to care a whole lot more than Pharaoh about this death as I guess that sorts out any legal issues with child custody later on. After the dust has settled, Pharaoh tells one guy to go tell Frank what has happened, and if he brings all the kids to the town, he can have his men back. This is too much for Archer who demands Pharaoh come clean about the real reason they are all there. He tells them there’s no money and it’s all about his son which they all seem shocked about. Archer, Parkour and Bombs just up and leave as he has betrayed their trust.
Rick (Tyson) is reading The Koran while still chained up as a prisoner and Frank is watching the kids practice on a makeshift firing range. He likes the cut of Abdullah’s jib and shouts at him he is his son now or some such nonsense. This beautiful moment is disturbed when the guy returns from town with the ominous words, “Frank, we have a problem”.
Frank is straight there for a chat with Pharaoh. “I am unarmed”, he bellows after he manages to struggle free of his little car. Naturally, Pharaoh won’t shoot an unarmed man (though if it was a woman, he probably would have given her a slap) and they have a chat. Not much of a chat to be fair as Frank’s men roll into town soon after and take everyone hostage. “You should have killed me when you had the chance”, he shouts which is pretty much exactly what he should have done with Tyson but that’s from an outsider looking in. Pharaoh amusingly calls Frank a weak man and there’s another gunfight where I think Assad gets shot.
The woman from the start goes to help rescue Rick who gets to say the most effeminate “C’mon, hurry up”, I’ve ever heard from a former Heavyweight Champion of the World. He then gets back to what he does best by fighting men like a fearsome, shackled beast. He now has a machine gun (Ho ho ho) and they both escape.
Pharaoh and his men are all tied up in a room with sacks on their heads. They promptly remove the sacks (pointless) and Argentinian just lets out a shout for no apparent reason and then tries to bite through the ropes, which made me laugh. Pharaoh seems to have given up but he has the ropes cut and a raising POV shot from the feet upwards for the big reveal who helps him…. It’s….. it’s…… the disabled guy from earlier!!! WTF!?!?!? He’s not disabled at all! Turns out he was undercover and is a Major in the army or some ludicrous shit.
He wants them to help him take down Frank before he spreads his territory to Egypt as well and he’s been planning to stop him. They agree and they come up with a fiendish plan….. Run out of the door shooting as many people as they can like Butch and Sundance. Fortunately for these guys, it appears to be the tea-break for Frank’s men as they seem to be in a smoking shelter probably moaning about pay or lack of available overtime so this makes them much easier to kill.
This is the biggest, most random and confusing gunfight in the film and there’s been loads of them. As I mentioned, nobody could possibly know who they were shooting and whether they were killing their own people or not. The kids they are trying to rescue are ushered onto a bus to ready them for escape. Frank shouts “AAARRGGH!” and gets the biggest gun since Jesse Ventura’s in Predator to randomly blow people into balls of blood.
Abdullah is sniping from the rooftops for Frank but sees his dad fighting and has a flashback to them playing together. Thankfully, it’s the same flashback Pharaoh had earlier in the film, so we know what it all means. Abdullah then saves his dad’s life by shooting another gunman until he is taken down by someone from behind.
Somehow, Pharaoh and his team are all sitting down now and the Major decides it is time to take Frank down even though I am pretty sure they started doing that about 5 minutes ago. Pharaoh says he must rescue his son first, which I am also sure he mentioned before. Pointless scene.
Frank asks Abdullah why he killed his own men (opportunity missed to mention that the lack of uniform could be partially to blame in this inevitable mistaken identity thing) but he kind of knows he saved his own father. “I’m not scared of you”, little Abdullah ridiculously says to the multi-murdering man giant. Frank decides he will play the same game he did at the beginning and make Abdullah kill his own father (run, Luke, run), “TAKEHIMAWAY!” he suddenly roars and we head back to the gunfight.
It has become night-time again now and the battle rages on in partial slow motion. Pink Floyd appear to have turned up to play some slow, cool guitar over the top of the action. A figure aims a rocket launcher at our heroes but, just as he is about to blow them all to pieces, he is shot by…… ARCHER! He, Bombs and Parkour come running back into the film (Slow-mo of course) and immediately engage in some combat. The boys are back in town (song not played) it seems. Archer gives us an explanation, “I have always loved money but I can never abandon a friend in need”. How touching. “I missed you guys”, replies Pharaoh even though it was only yesterday they fucked off and he’s been pretty busy since then.
Mike Tyson is still there by the way and he fights a guy who looks like someone has stuck a pump up his ass and over inflated him. Prior to this, there is a moment where he and Argentinian nearly shoot each other as they don’t know who the other is or whose side they are on – I don’t want to keep going on about it but it really is a risk. Tyson throws some punch combos on this big guy who looks like he might rip and blow around the room like a deflating balloon but he counters by throwing Tyson around like a doll.
Argentinian joins Tyson in a 2 on 1 beatdown and they get the guy off his feet. As he gets back up, Archer shoots him dead through a window. Rick and Argentinian run out and immediately save Archer’s life so they are even again. Amid all of the ridiculous gunplay, Frank has started to kill his own men in an attempt to get to his stash of gold. There’s an exploding car stunt they were proud of so they show it 3 times in slow motion before Bombs sneaks up on a bus full of gunmen and plants explosives all along the exterior. Sadly, he is shot before he gets away, says a little prayer to Allah and blows himself up along with the bus in a mega explosion they also show us a few times in super slow motion.
Frank is now throwing barrels out of his was and rolling cars instead of just walking around them while Parkour and The Ex demonstrate more overkill by pumping a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bullets into people. Argentinian has the best idea of them all by simply asking someone where Abdullah is and they guy tells him as well. It was as easy as that! As he runs to tell Pharaoh, he takes a couple of bullets to the back and dies in his arms. “ARGENTINIIIIIIAAAAN!!!!” he shouts into his face which would have been a touching scene if it wasn’t so funny. “ARGENTINIIIIIIAAAAN!!!!”, he repeats, just in case being shot has just made the guy sleepy.
Rick (Tyson) gets another fight scene now with a guy who kind of just dances around the place and occasionally irritates him with a bit of a slap. Rick finally grabs him and seemingly just pummels him to death. Frank is outside being attacked by Parkour and The Ex. He throws The Ex across the screen in a very poor wire effect before just snapping Parkour’s neck. He throws her to the floor again and we are unsure if she’s dead or not (Spoiler: she is). As bullets fly again, Frank runs (just about), gets in a very small car and drives away with Pharaoh in hot pursuit and in a larger car. They have some side collisions as they drive around to nowhere until Frank’s little car is pushed up a hill only to inexplicably explode and kill him. It really does, he’s not just presumed dead only to re-emerge from the smoke shouting Pharaoh in one last showdown moment, he is just dead and that’s it. Pharaoh, Abdullah and Archer walk out of the town away form over 100 corpses someone else will have to explain and clear away.
Epilogue scene: The survivors are in a line and are as follows: Assad’s sister, Archer, Abdullah, Pharaoh, Rick and that woman who killed her dad at the start. She asks is Rick is going with them (wherever they are going. Home I guess) but he says he must stay and help more refugees as they need all the help they can get. Everyone else just fucks off and we get the final end credits with more ridiculous music over the top. THE END
What a monumental waste of nearly 2 hours. It’s like a really long music video at times and the action itself is pretty rubbish. Don’t get me wrong, there are some laughs and it’s probably going to end up being the best Egyptian action film I watch this year but I’m not sure I can recommend it to you fine folk out there. Screw it, who am I to tell you what to do. Settle down and get some of Pharaoh’s War down you. At least the music is good.
Why did Frank explode when forced up a hill in his tiny car?
Why did he choose that car anyway when others were available?
How long had the Major been pretending to be severely disabled before he revealed himself?
What was his plan if Pharaoh and his gang hadn’t shown up?
Why was he pretending to be disabled at all?
Why was Mike Tyson being held as a hostage and not just killed outright?
Where did everyone keep getting their ammunition from?
Why did The Wife accompany them on this mission?
Who the Hell was Abu Jamil?
Pharaoh's War? Huh? Good God
What is it good for?
Frank – every line is shouted and he’s just one big fella
Argentinian shouting for no reason when tied up and trying to bite through ropes like he had the gnawing powers of a rat.
Pharaoh: “ARGENTINIIIIAAAAAAN!!!!”. Both times
Argentinian’s just for the shout. Close second to The Ex for being thrown to the floor to death