Remember Gladiator? The film about that beloved General who isn’t really the son of the King, but the King likes him better than he does his own son? Then the King dies and the jerk of a real son attempts to get rid of his better brother? Well, you just keep that in mind while watching this film and keep in mind that it’s the same director that did both of them.
Under the rule of the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), brothers Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Moses (Christian Bale) commanded the armies of Egypt and oversaw that the Hebrew slaves were doing as they were instructed. After the High Priestess (Indira Varma) forsees that the son in peril will be rescued by the other son and future king, tension grows between Ramses and Moses. After being saved by Moses and losing their father, Ramses grows less trustful of Moses, especially after Moses takes a journey to Pithom to observe the Viceroy (Ben Mendelsohn) and learns form a man named Nun (Ben Kingsley) that he was born Hebrew.
Due to this information, Ramses banishes Moses, who travels long and far to start a new life. After nine years having left Egypt, Moses ascends to a forbidden mountain and it’s there that he hears God’s call. Moses is to return to Egypt and free his people, but it will be no easy task. The only people he can turn to are Nun and Joshua (Aaron Paul) and it’s with them that he begins training an army. However, Egypt endures many plagues during this time and the strength of every citizen in Egypt is tested.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is another Swords & Sandals epic from director Ridley Scott, but it falls short of expectations and proves to be just another rehashing of a story we’ve seen before. Granted, this film has a bigger budget than most that have attempted to tell this story and this film is much longer, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any better than what we’ve seen. There’s tons of controversy surrounding this film for its anglo-ificaiton of the Egyptians and while the performances are fairly good, they’re still not enough to move this film forward and make it worth the nearly three-hour runtime.
Joel Edgerton does his very best as Ramses, adding layers and depth to his character and making him somewhat of a likable Pharaoh. Of course, his self-obsession and treatment of the Hebrews makes him a terrible person, but in his more tender moments with his family we see that he’s still a human being. Edgerton’s facial and vocal expressions standout because he has such a great ability when it comes to expressing how he really feels. He’s a great parallel to Christian Bale, who’s wandering and uncertain Moses is hard to read, but is a good man. Bale brings complexity of emotions to Moses, as he is never in total agreement with what God is doing. Together, Edgerton and Bale have some very fun scenes, as well as some very awesome ones too.
Though only around for a short time, John Turturro adds some fun and humanity to the film as a loving father and a smart ruler. Ben Kingsley shows up to reveal all to Moses and he does a fine job of doing so. Aaron Paul as Joshua is tasked more to observe than act, but Paul still does his part better than most. Ben Mendelsohn’s viceroy is a despicable man who makes it his mission to have the audience despise him. He of course achieves this through his unfair rule. That very rule and the rule of Edgerton’s is put on large display, as we watch hundreds of thousands of slaves building giant structures and being lacerated by multiple whips. There’s no restraint with blood and violence, which certainly helps to emphasize just how awful things were in that time.
From a biblical standpoint, I do admire Scott’s progression of this film. Whereas other directors would swiftly move through the plagues and speed up the escape from Egypt, Scott takes his time and draws out those sequences in an effort to show us the exhaustion felt by all parties. In the case of Moses, Scott focuses heavily on his disbelief of his heritage and his internal struggle with God. Since this is Hollywood, Scott does take some liberties with the story and adds some more fantastical and untrue sequences to the film, but they’re not very noticeable and don’t detract from the story. What will take you out of the film, however, is the film’s sluggish pace from start to finish. The action moves quickly, but everything else brings the film to a halt and then proceeds to move at a snail-like pace.
“Epic” is the word being used to describe this film and that couldn’t be more misleading. Yes, everything happens on a grand-scale, but there’s not much that’s epic about this film. There are very few battles, the CGI is evident in many of the scenes, and the most defining moment in Moses’ life, the parting of the Red Sea, feels like an average event. There’s nothing that goes on that ever feels special of wonderful to watch in this film and that’s a huge issue given the subject material. The plagues, the freedom of the slaves, and the parting of the Red Sea are pretty big deals, but they feel underwhelming here and it’s hard to enjoy something you don’t care about. Speaking of which, you don’t care that Sigourney Weaver is in this film for a few minutes, or about Bale’s family because you only get glimpses of them. For being important in Moses’ life, they certainly get the short end of the stick.
Exodus: Gods and Kings could have and should have been a lot better than it is, but it’s pacing and lackluster series of events keep it from being the epic it so desperately claims that it is. Ridley Scott is off of his game with this latest film, which is sad to see because something like Gladiator worked so well for him. Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton are about the only standout performers in this film and while the effects work sometimes, they usually come off as phony and take away from the gravity of the situations at hand. For what it’s worth, this supposed biblical epic is a biblical bust that could benefit from a lot more focus.
Exodus: Gods and Kings Trailer