Exodus: Gods and Kings (aka Moses) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a movie that finds itself all over the map. It wants to relate to the grand biblical epics of yore, but wants to modernize its fantastical elements into a grounded environment. It wants to showcase a top-notch cast, but doesn’t want them to have any breakout performances. It wants to be a visual treat with an abundance of CGI effects worthy of a disaster picture, but also doesn’t want to overplay them too much. Whatever Scott’s true intentions were for this project, it becomes lost in a dizzyingly dull and sporadic spectacle.
It’s your standard story of Moses and Pharaoh Rameses played by Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton respectively. Giving his most bland performance yet, Bale plays a rather uninspired Moses who leads the Hebrew slaves to freedom. Edgerton’s Rameses predictably sneers and scratches his bald head in frustration as his empire is threatened by biblical forces. Frogs descend from the skies, locusts terrorize the land and the firstborns all mysteriously die as a dark shadow of death consumes the empire.
Scott seems to have focused most of his energy in this project to the visual aspect. He probably took a look back on such films as The 10 Commandments and King of Kings and thought “I could make that grander.” Busting out all the computer graphics, epic scale sets and decadent costumes his production team could muster, it appears as though Scott was setting his sight on creating a beefed up biblical epic for the 21st century. While he more or less achieves that visual desire, he pulls a George Lucas in how he favors style over substance.
The characters feel mostly detached from a script bogged down in theatrics. Christian Bale seems to be entirely phoning this performance in. Whether Ridley Scott was aiming to make him more subtle or not, Bale’s heart doesn’t seem to be in this one. Nor does Edgerton who pulls back as a villain. He appears to be taking this role too seriously for a man with eyeliner and gold clothing. The rest of the cast that includes Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul are completely wasted with what little they have to do. I can’t recall any of Paul’s dialogue as he spends the majority of the picture just scowling.
In his attempt to inject some originality, Scott employs some creative story changes. God appears talking to Moses in the form of a small British boy (makes sense given his toying nature with human lives). The iconic parting of the Red Sea is more of a draining as the slaves cross when the levels are just low enough. These elements sound a little silly on paper as if Scott is trying to make the acts of God more reasonable for reality, but you’ll be begging for any innovation in the way the picture mostly strolls down a familiar path.
Ridley Scott’s religious epic is the a-typical blockbuster gloss for a biblical epic that sheers any emotion or thrill. The grandeur of the scale gives way to any ounce of character development with actors drearily sleepwalking through such quiet roles, doing their best not to get in the way of the visual effects. Even on the level of transforming this religious tale into a computer-generated thrill ride of plagues, there’s a lacking element of humanity in making us care about what is happening on screen. It should be exciting watching a community shredded by God’s wrath, but these sequences feel so distant from the story. The result is a bloated bit of religious action that never really capitalizes on anything and is ultimately an empty experience devoid of life. Exodus is not quite a sin of the genre, but it needs a few good lashing to wake it up from the dreariness.