You don’t have to be a religious historian to know and love the story of Exodus. It has all of the elements of a great epic; a reluctant hero, romance, mysticism, and a very strong message about faith. At least… that’s what it’s supposed to have. These days, Hollywood can get their hands on any property and do their computer generated best to make it as bland as possible.
Enter Ridley Scott’s Exodus. His film has all of the pieces; an already concise source material, a strong actor in Christian Bale playing the role of Prince of Egypt turned slave liberator, Moses, and a budget that allows him to skip no details or hold anything back. And yet, he seems to find a way to squander most of this in the span of an unnecessarily lengthy two and a half hours.
Scott’s film doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be the story of Exodus, or just another generic swords and sandals epic. We are bombarded with an opening battle scene that serves next to no purpose and minutes and minutes of loud chariot rides through the desert, but we don’t get time dedicated to the things that actually matter. Gone is the sense of camaraderie and brotherly love that is supposed to exist between Moses and tyrannical Pharoah to be, Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). And you can forget about the loving relationship between Moses and wife Zipporah (Maria Valverde). They meet, they have a conversation, they make goo-goo eyes at each other, and they are married in the next scene. There are also parts that are just flat out nonsensical: Exactly how are slaves able to go out in the wilderness to receive battle training?
Sure, the scope and grandeur of the film is appealing at times. The plagues and the overall massive size of the sets are pretty impressive. But even some of this gets lost in an epic mess. The plagues aren’t given much reasoning other than God (portrayed mostly in the form of a little boy) being angry and vengeful and the parting of the Red Sea (perhaps the most famous part of the story) is the most underwhelming scene in the movie.
Sadly enough, performances aren’t enough to rescue the film either. Christian Bale is good, when he isn’t fighting his natural European accent, but the rest of the cast is downright forgettable. Edgerton’s Ramesses comes off as a stubborn, spoiled, simpleton and Ben Kinglsey is given basically nothing to do, which is more than can be said about Sigourney Weaver’s Tuya, who could’ve been left from the movie completely.
It’s a shame the director of films like Blade Runner, Gladiator, and American Gangster picked such a worthy story to ignore plot and characterization. Exodus: Gods and Kings feels just like another loud blockbuster. If you want eye popping spectacle then, by all means, enjoy… but if emotion, cohesion or just a simple sense of adventure is what you’re looking for, then just go watch Prince of Egypt.
FINAL GRADE: C-