Synopsis: From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus) comes the epic adventure Exodus: Gods and Kings, the story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 400,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
Release Date: December 12, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Period Piece
After the very first piece of marketing material was shown it became abundantly clear that Exodus: Gods and Kings was going to have a tough road. The whitewashing controversy that surrounded the depictions of its lead characters alone was enough to draw serious criticism, not to mention the liberties the film was seemingly taking with its source material. Beyond all that, Exodus: Gods and Kings was trying to find success in a genre that has delivered many more misses than hits, and of those misses several have been colossal failures. To even make it out of the gate, Exodus: Gods and Kings needed to hit the ground running, and unfortunately it hardly reaches jogging pace.
Despite what the trailers might lead viewers to believe, Exodus: Gods and Kings is far more faithful to the biblical story than some assumed. Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are two Egyptian princes raised like brothers, but only one is set to assume the role of Pharaoh once the current king has passed. Moses is perfectly content playing second fiddle, though, and appreciates the life of luxury and privilege that he has been seemingly born into. However, it isn’t long before Moses discovers that his true lineage is that of a Hebrew, and that most of his life has been built on lies. And even though it takes some time for Moses to accept this, he eventually accepts the mantle as the prophesied leader of the Israelites and tries to free them from the now-Pharaoh Ramses’ rule.
It’s worth summing up the Exodus: Gods and Kings story if only because the film itself does a poor job at explaining the many important elements of the Moses/Ramses conflict. The film seems to operate under the assumption that audiences are plenty familiar with the ins-and-outs of the Exodus tale, so much so that it excises many of the important details. Yes, the plagues are there, but the film never actually does well to address them from the Israelite perspective. The Egyptians are better served in that they try to draw reason from the sudden appearance of frogs, locusts, and darkness, but the film doesn’t give a second thought to cluing audiences in. That becomes most clear during the final plague, which is never explicitly explained and is mostly played for shock value.
The same is true of every character not named Moses or Ramses in the film. Exodus: Gods and Kings never takes the time to set up the backstory or explain the importance of any of its side characters, be it Moses’ brother Aaron or his close friend Joshua. Some pretty prominent actors, like Sigourney Weaver as Ramses’ mother Tuya, are given one, maybe two scenes to try and make an impact and almost all fail. So, by the time the 2-and-a-half hour film concludes it feels as if we barely know any of these characters or really what’s happening. It’s only our previous knowledge of the Exodus story that helps fill in the massive gaps in narrative and even then that’s not enough.
And where Exodus: Gods and Kings does try to flesh out the biblical story it does so with some strong choices, many of which will rub people of faith the wrong way. This particular story is so well known that most have an idea of it playing out in their heads, and so seeing something different will be totally jarring. Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ depiction of God talking with Moses, for example, is not an easy pill to swallow.
Similarly, the use of an almost all-white cast to portray obviously non-white individuals is going to be an instant turn off to a large group of moviegoers. Yes, it’s a movie and there’s a certain need to suspend disbelief, but seeing milky toned Brits in eyeliner breaks the immersion, especially when there’s no consistent accent shared among the characters. It feels like a bad stage play in parts, and is only saved by the mega budget effects, costumes, and production design. At least there the film hits a solid note with impressive scope and scale. There’s no denying that a lot of Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ budget went into recreating Egypt in its prime and every single visual element feels authentic. Even the use of CGI to create the plagues helps sell them as genuine nuisances – your skin will crawl as hundreds of flies circle the screen.
At the same time, though, the need to set a blockbuster level spectacle appears to have overridden every other important cinematic element. Story and character fall to the wayside as a 20-minute montage of plagues does nothing but showcase how much money the production had at their disposal. The same is true of the climactic parting of the Red Sea, which admittedly doesn’t have that goofy pathway under water conceit, but is still more about visual opulence than cinematic necessity.
Somewhere there is a Director’s Cut of Exodus: Gods and Kings that does the biblical story justice. It breathes life to characters who are mostly pushed to the background and bolsters the spectacle with cogent storytelling. Exodus: Gods and Kings current theatrical cut, however, lets visual effects dominate what should be a compelling story, and lets the audience’s knowledge of the source material do most of the actual narrative legwork. The film turns a blind eye to uninformed viewers, but it’s those people who Exodus: Gods and Kings will most appeal to, as anyone with a strong affinity to the Bible will find the adaptation confusing or worse, infuriating. There are a few component parts that could have made Exodus: Gods and Kings a successful modern day biblical epic, but the film’s most important elements are so sloppily put together it’s hard to recommend it.
Considering Exodus: Gods and Kings is in a lot of ways a character piece it’s a good thing Christian Bale jumped on board. His version of Moses is the closest thing to a nuanced performance that the film has to offer. Bale carries Exodus: Gods and Kings as best he can and does a noble job, all things considered. Joel Edgerton, on the other hand, plays Ramses as a scenery-chewing villain that lacks any semblance of complexity. He’s a poor foil for Bale’s Moses and a far less interesting character to boot. As far as the other actors are concerned, it would be nice to tell you what they added to the film, but with maybe 20 minutes of screen time shared between the lot of them it’s hardly worth even mentioning their performances.
Narratively, Exodus: Gods and Kings may have plenty of problems, but from a pure production standpoint it’s an impressive piece of cinema. Director Ridley Scott has always been able to nail a sense of place and he does so again here. His casting choices may be a little suspect, but outside of that he hits many of the right notes, visually, that you would expect from a blockbuster retelling of the Exodus story. The plagues, for example, are brought to life in ways that make them feel like fantastical events, not just a few prop frogs popping up in a scene. And the parting of the Red Sea sequence doesn’t turn into a pointless climactic battle, but still delivers that important falling action. Scott’s hand may be in a few of Exodus: Gods and Kings head-scratching elements, but it’s almost assuredly part of the smarter ones as well.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ridley Scott
- Screenwriter(s): Adam CooperBill CollageJeffrey Caine
- Story: Steven Zaillian
- Cast: Christian Bale (Moses)Joel Edgerton (Ramses) John Turturro (Seti)Aaron Paul (Joshua)Sigourney Weaver (Tuya)Ben Kingsley (Nun)
- Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By: Alberto Iglesias
- Country Of Origin: USA