Exodus: Gods and Kings is sinfully average
‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is spectacular to behold but it may not be quite the religious experience the faithful would hope it to be.
Big, expensive, all-star Biblical epics were all the rage back in the late 50s and early 60s, most likely due to the fact that Cinemascope was the new thing in movies to bring couch potatoes, who had become fixated on their newfangled television sets, back to the theaters. The first widescreen epic was, in fact, a Biblical movie, The Robe (1953), and the fad had reached a climax with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).
Since then, television has done more with Bible stories – most notably the History Channel mini-series The Bible and it’s upcoming sequel, A.D., on NBC – but now director Ridley Scott feels it’s time to tackle the story of Moses once again in his new film Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Rhamses.
In Scott’s film, we forego the whole baby floating down the river to be found in the bullrushes, instead meeting Moses and Rhamses as grown men, only knowing each other as brothers. A prophecy foretells that one of them will face death in battle but the other one will save him and take Pharaoh Seti’s throne. This doesn’t sit too well with Rhamses, but Moses assures him he has no desire to become the ruler of Egypt. Just the same, Rhamses tells him not to save his life as they head into battle. Moses does, which freaks Rhamses out just a bit, and then Moses finds out something about himself … he’s actually Hebrew.
Spies overhear this news, take it to Rhamses and thus sets the stage for Moses to want to free his people from slavery. Rhamses refuses and, well, if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments then you know the rest. Seven plagues, Passover, the Red Sea … all the greatest hits are on display with the best digital effects money can buy. Scott changes things up from the way we’ve always known them to be (at least from the movies) by not having Moses use his staff to turn the river to blood or part the Red Sea! It just kind of recedes until the Egyptian army shows up.
But even with touching on all of these things that scream “SPECTACLE!” the film feels like it’s missing quite a bit, especially since there is never any real denotation of time passing except for once or twice at the beginning of the story. When Moses finally goes up to Mount Sinai to receive the commandments (which he chisels himself as a vision of God watches), he’s middle aged. By the time he comes down a few minutes later, he’s old and gray and we have no idea how much time has passed (unless you really know your Bible) … and then it feels like there’s more story to tell but Scott refuses to give it to us. The whole worshiping of the golden calf barely registers.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a very well-made movie, to be sure, and it looks epic with some truly astounding effects sequences (the mountainous road scene is particularly harrowing). The 3D process also looks sharp and clear, and while it gives depth to the scenery, there’s not really much use for it (except for those pesky seagulls which make you go a little cross-eyed when they pop off the screen). The casting of the film has been controversial with Caucasian actors playing Egyptians (and black actors playing slaves), but I didn’t have a problem with that. It just made it feel more like an old-fashioned Biblical film where all the Middle Eastern characters spoke with British accents.
Christian Bale is fine as Moses, working to the best of his ability with what he’s given, bringing some realism to the scenes where he’s conversing with God, whom only he can see, and taking on the role of action hero once again. Edgerton has a little more to sink his teeth into as he goes from loving brother to sworn enemy of Moses, stopping at nothing to destroy him. It was strange seeing John Turturro as Seti, taking several minutes to even recognize him with his bald head and guyliner, and if you blink you’ll pretty much miss Sigourney Weaver who is in the movie for maybe five minutes and has two lines.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a movie with good intentions, and it’s not a bad movie by any means. Its cardinal sin is just being adequate. The Ten Commandments was interesting, at the time, because of the huge cast of stars that populated the film and the, for the time, state of the art special effects. Over time, it’s become a bit campy mainly because of the casting (Edward G. Robinson’s thick New York accent is hilariously out of place), but even at almost 4 hours it still manages to be entertaining even all these years later. Exodus: Gods and Kings takes itself much too seriously, and while it’s good, I don’t think it will stand the test of time with its Biblical predecessors.