Leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton take the backseat to the big man in the sky in moderately entertaining (yet overlong) biblical epic from director Ridley Scott.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Release date: December 12, 2014 (USA)
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul
Running time: 150 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
First thing’s first: I think Exodus: Gods and Kings is one of the worst film titles since Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. The word “Exodus” is unique, instantly recognizable and tied to the most read book of all time. Why not just call the movie “Exodus?” The studio probably added “Gods and Kings” to evoke a 300 vibe of swords and sandals warfare with epic CGI.
Besides the fact that the movie only has one God, one King and one battle, I find the subtitle annoying. Thus, in protest, I will be using alternates throughout this review.
Onto the film itself: Moses Begins is decently entertaining. I had low expectations going in but director Ridley Scott delivers a watchable origin story for God’s number one guy and his quest to lead his people out of Egypt. We start with a full-grown Moses played by Christian Bale. He’s a general in Egypt, and super-bro-pals with Ramses, the prince, played convincingly with shaved head and guy liner by Joel Edgerton. Ramses becomes King of Egypt and then finds out Moses is actually an orphaned Hebrew boy who’s been passing as Egyptian. Ramses is conflicted but exiles his best bro because the Egyptians see the Hebrews as slaves and lesser human beings.
I should note that The Bible Episode One: The Phantom Hebrew takes some vaguely interesting liberties with the source text. Despite them, things go mostly as you remember. The exiled Moses walks awhile and finds a well… hangs out with a shepherd family… falls in love… has a kid. (We predictably skip the “Jethro gives Moses his daughter like she’s property” and “Moses has to circumcise his son if he wants to be God’s soldier” bits.) Things move on quickly and awkwardly: Years pass… Moses sees a burning bush… gets a mission from God… heads back to Egypt to free the Hebrews.
One thing I really like about The Dark Yahweh Rises is how it doesn’t shy away from the ugliest parts of the story. God comes off as a cruel and merciless badass who punishes the Egyptians for enslaving the Hebrews. The whole “God killing a ton of children” thing is harsh and we truly feel it. Good on you, Ridley Scott. Bloody rivers and frogs and plagues of locusts are rendered in beautiful CGI. It might not be your cup of sacramental wine, but – believer or not – it’s cool to watch.
Unfortunately this cool sequence damages Moses v Ramses: Dawn of Israel overall. The problem is that even though God’s doing all this cool stuff, he isn’t the main character. It’s really a movie about Moses and his quest to free the Hebrews from Ramses’ rule. But as is often the case when an all-powerful God is involved, the protagonist and antagonist spend a lot of time hemming and hawing and not doing anything while God takes over. For a minute early on, it seemed like the film was going to make Moses the active player, maybe showing how he used Yahweh’s inspiration to cause the plagues via somewhat secular means. But instead the film veers down the path of constant deus-ex-machina when God steps in and uses unexplained God-power to just make stuff happen. (I don’t mean to be flippant about God here, just the character of God as depicted in this film.)
Fifty Shades of Doubting Your Faith soon devolves into Moses internally questioning whether God’s going to do his piece and save the Hebrews. Is Moses doing right by his people or just tilting at windmills? Meanwhile, Ramses becomes a rage-monster hell bent on killing the Hebrews to get back at God. There’s a pretty unexciting “chase” across the desert building up to some disappointingly anticlimactic events at the Red Sea. That is a difficult part of the story to make underwhelming, but Ridley Scott does.
What else is there to say about White is the New Brown: Age of Casting Controversy? Scott made some incredibly indelicate comments about the supposed realities of big budget casting and the “need” to use Caucasian stars. I wouldn’t wade into that Red Sea of issues even if Moses parted it for me, but it’s worth reading and thinking about.
Hmmm. Ben Kingsley is underutilized, John Tuturro is good, and Aaron Paul is only worth mentioning to say that he’s not worth mentioning. The movie’s forty minutes too long but has some epic CGI shots that are beautiful.
I’m pretty sure that’s all I have to say about Exodus: Gods and Kings, and besides, I’ve clearly run out of pithy fake titles.