Exodus: Gods and Kings review
Gods, kings, brothers, slaves, warriors and a pharaoh
Three-time Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott’s (Alien, Blade Runner) latest film is several degrees of familiar territory. Exodus: Gods and Kings takes the action-adventure and character-driven route of Scott’s other recent historical epics (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood) and tells the well-known Bible tale of Moses freeing the Hebrew slaves with God’s help. Academy Award-winner Christian Bale (American Hustle, Out of the Furnace)stars as Moses, beginning the film as an Egyptian general and ending it as the Biblical icon. Australian character actor Joel Edgerton (Felony, The Great Gatsby) has villain duty, playing Pharaoh Ramses. While the newest interpretation of the story has the same three-act structure as it always has, the filmmaker takes a few new artistic directions that make the film worth the price of admission—particularly the 3D implementation and child embodiment of God. While it won’t blow up the box office or have the historical impact that The Ten Commandments maintains, Exodus: Gods and Kings is the superior Biblical epic of 2014 to Aronofsky’s Noah.
Bale brings his trademark intensity to the screen and never has a scene stolen away from another cast member. Edgerton also plays Ramses with an equal intenseness. It’s obvious their characters have a similar upbringing based on the two leads’ performances. The rest of the cast feels like a list of extended cameos because no other characters are even as remotely explored as Moses or Ramses. John Turturro (The Big Lebowski, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) picks up Bale’s dropped accent to play Ramses’ father—the film’s first pharaoh. Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, “Political Animals”) plays the hateful Tuya. Aaron Paul (Need for Speed, “Breaking Bad”) has a secondary role as Moses’ second-in-command, Joshua. Academy Award-winner Sir Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3, The Dictator) has a few scenes as the Hebrew elder, Nun. All of these actors are in-demand, but never get an opportunity to demonstrate why they are in-demand.
Scott’s blockbusters are often effects-heavy, but never has one of his films looked just so CGI-laden. Much of the second act lies in an extended, yet well-paced montage of God’s wrath on Egypt: locusts, bloody Nile, pestilence, frogs, hail, etc. While altogether impressive, it’s rather unfortunate that a montage had to pass for storytelling—the preceding scene telling Moses to literally take a break. It may as well as have been Ridley Scott talking to the audience. Characters are shown in the montage, but “acting” hardly occurs by definition. Scott’s storytelling usually teeters on a necessity for special effects and Exodus: Gods and Kings looks like the filmmaker’s ceiling for CGI. (And it should be, if it isn’t.)
The movie isn’t all bad. Scott has professed himself the best man to direct a Biblical epic because he believes his agnostic eye is objective. Depicting the Egyptian empire with cinematographer Dariusz Wolsky’s (the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Prometheus) artistic eye and sweeping camera makes a worthy blockbuster spectacle in 3D. Issac Andrews’ (Hercules, Blackwood) portrayal of Malak (“angel” in Arabic) creates the most memorable character. Only Moses can see this child who is a messenger for God that first appears to him beside the burning bush and then later on throughout the picture. Paul’s Joshua spies on Moses for a few of these scenes to make the viewer question the deliverer’s sanity. Does Moses really speak to God or has he lost his touch with reality? This question, however, is quickly remedied with God’s horrifying CGI wrath.
While taking far too long to revel in its own scale and achievement in effects, Exodus: Gods and Kings tells the age-old tale of a man charged by God to deliver slaves to their rightful freedom and homeland with an action-packed, character-driven perspective. Christian Bale once again hits every note as a blockbuster lead—making the action hero Moses’ situation feel relatable. Ridley Scott’s use of 3D has improved since his first impressive foray into that territory with Prometheus. Fans of Scott’s other historical epics like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (or even The Duellists and 1492) are sure to welcome his newest picture.