Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

Posted: December 25, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

hr_Exodus-_Gods_and_Kings_16Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

2014 has seen a huge boom in films based around religion. It makes sense since there is a wealth of material to draw upon and a built in audience who will always come out for films that support their beliefs. Most of these films have been shameless cash grabs like Son of God and Heaven is for Real, along with being generally terrible productions made by people who didn’t know what they were doing like God’s Not Dead and Saving Christmas. The lone exception to this was Noah, a film made by genuine auteur Darren Aronofsky and made with ambitions well beyond pandering to a faithful community. Instead, that film worked as just an exciting piece of Hollywood filmmaking with its great effects, inspired visuals, and passionate performances. It may not have been perfect, but it was a real film made by someone with conviction. I had hoped the film would be a precursor to Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tells the story of Moses and Ramessess II. The reviews were fairly negative, but Ridley Scott epics are something I have a hard time saying no to.

Set in Egypt during 1300 BCE, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and a member of Egypt’s royal family. He has a close relationship with Ramessess (Joel Edgerton), the Prince. One fateful day, Moses meets with the Viceroy (Ben Mendelsohn) who oversees the Hebrew slaves. During this meeting he comes across Hebrew slave Nun (Ben Kingsley) who informs Moses that he is actually a Hebrew. The year of his birth, there was a prophecy that the saviour of the Hebrew people would be born, so the Pharoah decided to kill all of the Hebrew first borns. Moses’ parents were able to save him and he was taken in and raised as royalty. Moses dismisses the tale as a lie, but is stirred by what he has been told, eventually realizing it is truth. Ramessess banishes Moses, putting him on the path to becoming the leader of the Hebrew people who will attempt to free his people from Ramessess.

Ridley Scott films are always enticing due to the man’s technical abilities. He is able to build worlds and visuals better than almost any filmmaker and it makes him the perfect guy to helm large scale period epics. Sure enough, the technical details of Exodus are pretty impressive. The various sets used are elaborate and detailed and bring a sense of authenticity to the picture. Whether it be the royal temples and halls or the slums that the slaves are living in, everything feels genuine and made with care. Scott uses CGI to enhance the world, but he does not supplement practical craftsmanship with digital effects. Rather, he blends to two well. The costuming and props also seem fairly accurate and the make-up does a good job both recreating the styles of the time as well as showing the changes to Moses, both in age and in health. It’s a well-realized world and the technology used to create it all is on point.

Another of Scott’s abilities that makes him the ideal man for these types of films is his ability to craft action set-pieces, and he crafts some damn good ones here. The main element the trailers are selling is the parting of the Red Sea and the final clash between Moses and Ramessess. This is indeed a pretty exciting moment that makes use of some really strong CGI. That said, it isn’t my favourite set-piece. That distinction belongs to the scene where the plagues first begin to effect Egypt. There’s a bloody alligator attack which is fast and frightening and leads to the bloodying of the Nile, which triggers an animal infestation of Egypt and the spreading of disease. The whole thing is edited together in a really intense and effective way. The plagues are one of the most often depicted aspects of the Bible, but Scott adds some neat details here. The alligator attack which instigates everything is especially awesome. The film also opens with a pretty exciting battle sequence and there’s a great moment late in the film with Ramessess’ army and a cliff side.

While the film does succeed as a work of spectacle, it fails as human drama. The film seems to be operating under the logic that because everyone knows the basics of the story, it doesn’t need to spend a lot of time exploring the characters and the relationships. This is unfortunate because it leads to disconnect. I never really cared about anybody or their struggles beyond as a vehicle for more spectacle. A key element of the film seems to be the relationship between Moses and Ramessess, but I never really felt the brotherhood between the two of them. Their struggle should be an emotional one between two people who used to love each other, but it never feels that way. It’s unfortunate because Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton are good actors, and Bale’s take of Moses as an unhinged lunatic is an interesting one, but it’s never able to come to fruition. Speaking of cast, a lot of the supporting players feel like they should be more important than they are. This supporting cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, and several others. And yet, most of these people do very little of actual importance. They all just blend to the background and leave little to no impact on the viewer at all. This compounds to the lack of connection I felt, which meant I was never able to become lost in the story. Consequently, there were a lot of dull stretches that can become tedious and I won’t deny that for parts of the film I was just waiting for the next big set-piece.

Exodus: Gods and Kings never really takes off as the epic it wants to be. There is never any emotional connection to anything going on and the film just feels incomplete. In fact, I’ve read the original cut of the film was four hours long so clearly a lot was taken out. I wouldn’t be surprised if by next year we see a far superior director’s cut. Having said all that, I don’t think the film deserves the critical thrashing it seems to be receiving. For all of its flaws, there are definitely some high points here. There are some really entertaining set-pieces and like most Ridley Scott films, the production value is quite high. All in all, the film has its moments, and even when it isn’t working, it’s never straight-up bad so much as it is just misguided. Part of me wants to say people should see this in theaters to experience to set-pieces and visuals on the big screen, but when I consider how hard it is to actually care about what’s going on, it’s clear this is more suited for a more relaxed viewing at home.

C

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It’s just a slow, sometimes meandering movie that doesn’t have much of anything interesting to say.

  2. Xenolicker says:

    No Russell Crowe! That’s good enough for me!! I got to see this movie!!!

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