Let’s face it — no modern moviegoer is heading out to see Exodus: Gods and Kings to become filled with the Holy Spirit. Heck, they’re not even going to see the latest way their fanboy crush, Ridley Scott, will frustrate them. No, the average ticket buyer, one hand holding overpriced snacks, the other feverishly texting his or her BFFs , is only attending this Old Testament tap dance for one reason and one reason only. They want to see old Moses (Christian Bale) part the Red Sea while visiting several other plagues on the Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) all to convince him to let the enslaved Jewish people of Egypt go free. It’s fairly easy to declare that their disappointment will be… Biblical in proportion.
Egged on by “the Word of God,” here personified by a little boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) and the perfunctory burning bush, we see the same old sacred story foisted upon the film-going public since way back in 1923, 1956 (both times by legendary producer/director Cecil B. DeMille), and 2007 (via animation, of all things). Instead of all the bullrushes and city building, this version of the tale shows us an adult Moses and mature Ramses vying for the favor of Seti I (John Turturro) in battle. After all, what better way to prove one’s calm and collected leadership qualities than via swordplay and bloodletting.
On a visit to the city of Pithom to check on the conditions of the economically necessary slave class, Moses is stunned to learn he is Hebrew. He meets both Joshua (Aaron Paul) and Nun (Ben Kingsley) who confirm the news. Back with Ramses, he confesses his heritage and is sent into exile. He settles in Midian, marries a woman named Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and becomes a shepherd. As you know, he eventually returns to Egypt, says “let my people go” a lot, and warns Ramses of the ten plagues about to be visited on his Caucasian head. He doesn’t listen, his first born dies, and he heads out to take his revenge on the recently released Jews.
Then the Red Sea finally parts. Many Egyptians die. Moses leads the Jews out of the wilderness. There’s a Golden Calf and some tablets with rules to live by. The end.
One of the greatest rules of remakes is to make sure you bring something new to the table, otherwise you run the risk of being compared to what came before. Invention and imagination are key, two things greatly lacking in Scott’s reimagining of this material. All questionable casting choices aside (apparently, everyone in the ancient world was of Anglo-Saxon heritage), this take on the Ten Commandments offers little of interest except for ramped up CG chaos. At least Darren Aronofsky’s Noah attempted to explain away its creaky Gospel insanity. Exodus could use a healthy dose of fallen angel rock giants to keep its audience alert.
Instead, by the time we get to the long anticipated finale, fiddled with by four screenwriters, we’ve already sat through the same old dreary dogma. Bale may be more aggressive than Charleton Heston, but he misses the “man of God” side of Moses’ story. Edgerton is even worse, nothing more than bronzer and bluster. Missing is the humanity, the humility amongst the holy. Both characters are so over amplified and bombastic that you wonder how The Creator will get a word in edgewise. As he does with most of his spectacle, Scott turns the action into a morass of meaningless motion. By the time Moses is crafting God’s commandments, we hope one of them is “Thou Shall Not Overcrank the Camera.”
Naturally, believers will see such criticisms and be convinced that this critic has been conspiring with the devil to derail the masses from a movie that could make a difference in their godless existence. Unfortunately, the only praying any viewer will be doing is for Exodus: Gods and Kings to end.