Review by Fred Topel
Exodus? More like Eh-Xodus. Exodus: Gods and Kings succeeds in doing the action movie version of the Bible, but in doing so it becomes very detached. As just another historical epic with some cool special effects, it doesn’t hold up without the philosophical reason for creating the spectacle. Spoiler alert, not just for scenes we already knew from the Bible, but for the way the movie portrays them too.
The first part of the movie rushes through Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton)’s relationship like it’s just the backstory for a Steven Seagal movie. “We were like brothers, but then he betrayed me.” It’s true because they say this is what we should know about them. There’s not a very subtle rift between them. Rhamses’ first act as Pharaoh is to betray Moses and terrorize friends of the court. Maybe there is a three hour director’s cut where they have an actual relationship. Ridley Scott likes to do that.
A lot more history between the characters is suggested after the film jumps nine years ahead. The gaps filled in when characters catch each other and us up on the state of Egypt say a lot more than the scenes we actually saw between Moses and Rhamses interact. Nun (Ben Kingsley) and Joshua (Aaron Paul) are essentially background extras, so there must have been more with them.
It’s got the Ridley Scott scale. Wide shots of slaves driven to build Pharaoh’s kingdom are full of a lot of moving parts in little details throughout the screen. The action feels a bit more obligatory. When they battle the Hittites in the beginning, it feels like “Here’s the big battle you want.” There were some cool moves in a training montage (hanging from a horse and shooting arrows) which I didn’t notice ever being used in battle. When an army of chariots races along a mountainside, it’s better than the animals running up the mountainside in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I’ll give ‘em that.
The film seems to be confused about its own theological commitment. The opening screen cites the time period as 1300 B.C.E., the secular alternative to B.C. (Before Common Era vs. Before Christ). Then it talks about God not forgetting his people. So is this the secular, practical version of the story or not? The film’s visual concept of God didn’t work for me aesthetically, but that’s just a matter of personal tastes.
The plagues are suggested to be a conceivable chain reaction. Rivers of blood are caused by massive crocodile attacks, with very fake CG crocs flapping around. I’m sure getting the water to react to the CGI flapping was a technological breakthrough, but the crocs look like typical CGI. Anyway, rivers of blood could have caused frogs to migrate, decomposing bodies could have caused flies to swarm, just in really extreme quantities. The first born one is clearly supernatural though. Perhaps that’s interesting, a culture trying to rationalize a catastrophe until it can’t anymore.
It’s funny how Moses gets knocked on the head twice in the movie and I thought they were going to play it like an amnesia movie, where the first bonk makes him forget and the second bonk makes him remember. For Moses it would be the first bonk puts him in touch with God and the second would make him secular again. The second bonk doesn’t have that effect so it’s just a coincidence. I guess they just liked hitting Christian Bale on the head.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a very skilled production, some lazy CGI aside. It’s just got some bad creative choices. Maybe don’t try to have it both ways with The Bible. either do the gritty “reality” version and piss off the faithful, or fully embrace the faithful version and maybe lose the Gladiator audience. Or if you really want to make a three hour movie, just do it. If big stars show up with nothing to do, it looks at best like stunt casting, and if you rush through the conflict between Rhamses and Moses, it’s going to feel like Rhamses is the big boss. Exodus: Gods and Kings is only a spectacle. It’s not an action movie we can believe in.