Moses may just be the Spider-Man of the Biblical world.
Cecil B. DeMille did right by the Biblical prophet with his epic interpretation of The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston is nothing if not a scenery-chewer, but he hammed it up enough to be larger than life and it was kind of perfect at the time.
Dreamworks started its animation career with The Prince of Egypt. In doing so, they made a easily-accessible version of the story that pitted brother against brother. Dreamworks excelled in terms of animation, music and voice-acting.
Now, we have another Moses remake brought to us by the director of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott. Two very respectable actors, Christian Bale (Batman) and Joel Edgerton (Warrior) play Moses and Ramses, respectively. With this retelling of the Biblical epic, Scott seeks to breathe new life into the prophet’s tale as they explore his journey with a more subtle approach.
Well, it’s about as subtle as a montage of plagues.
Exodus: Gods and Kings starts out just before Moses is exiled. He has been raised as cousin to the heir, Ramses. He is generally seen as an adopted son to King Seti (Jon Turturro) and is a popular general in the Egyptian army. Moses is sent as an envoy to the Hebrew slaves and learns from Nun (Ben Kingsley) of his lower birth. Word travels to Egypt and Moses is sent to the desert to die. Well, as we know, he survives and finds a wife in Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and finds his higher purpose later on Mount Sinai.
Being a Ridley Scott picture, you can walk into this movie expecting large-scale environments that are historical eye-candy. The movie feels large, almost so large in theory that it keeps you, the viewer, at arms length.
It feels that Scott demanded the sets to be so grand and have them be the focus of the movie. Yet, stylistically, you don’t feel the Ridley Scott touch. The story and editing is so by-the-numbers that any director could’ve made this. Many (most) people HATE Noah because of the risks it took. Yet, that was Darren Aronofsky’s movie and his vision was felt on the screen. It wasn’t for everyone, but the difference is that he had a vision. Exodus feels bland in comparison. No, there’s nothing controversial throughout the runtime, but there’s also nothing that sets it apart, especially from its superior predecessors.
There were a few scenes with genuine heart. The moments between Moses and Zipporah feel sincere. On a small scale, this movie works. I gather that’s why they made his part to be less of a scenery-chewing prophet and more of a reactive participant and involuntary leader.
The plagues are all very incredible to watch, but they are sandwiched into a montage. I almost wish that Exodus had out-of-sequence editing. Start the movie with a plague and then find out how we got there and so on. When the plagues begin, it’s basically 10 minutes of effects hidden in a hollow movie. Also, don’t expect too much from the Red Sea parting. This scene has always provided the opportunity for effects teams to showcase their skills. There is no parting. What occurs feels more realistic, but it lacks the dramatic punch.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the miscasting, but every actor seemed off. I can’t see why they needed Sigourney Weaver when she only appeared as a glorified cameo. Jon Turturro as Ramses father is just unnecessary. As for Bale and Edgerton, normally I’d say that they could disappear into every role, but they are given little to do with the script.
The casting choice I did appreciate was the young child they got to play God. Moses has several conversations with this petulant boy and these scenes showed more style and interaction than most of Moses’s scenes. Had the movie gone into who Moses was as a man and been a more personal affair, it would have been stronger and unique.
Exodus gives far too much time to the environment rather than telling us a personal story about Moses and his struggle to free the Jews. Characterization is left behind the grand-standing speeches. This is average and may only be worth your time as a rental.