Review: “Exodus: Gods and Kings” Is As Dry As Forty Years In The Desert
Title: Exodus: Gods and Kings
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenwriter: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zaillian
Principal Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton. John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley
Oh me, oh my, where do I begin? I have a lot of ground to cover with this movie which has been extremely high profile since its conception. At first everyone was on board with a modern re-telling of the tale of Moses. The Ten Commandments came out in 1956 and the animated movie The Prince of Egypt came out in 1998. A lot has changed technology wise since then, so I can understand a studio thinking it was a good idea to tell this familiar story again. Then they announced Ridley Scott as director and suddenly people were excited because they all have pleasant memories of Blade Runner and Alien, but have conveniently forgotten Prometheus and Robin Hood. Scott was a reason to get excited, but the backlash didn’t start until they announced a cast containing a striking amount of white actors for a movie that is taking place in the middle east. The studio, cast and crew have been trying to excuse this, but the spectre of racism was hanging over Exodus: Gods and Kings before it even had a release date. The movie was walking into theaters with an arrow in each knee.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a failure with a bloated runtime, miscast actors, and so dull and dry that I felt like I just wandered through a desert for forty years.
Exodus: Gods and Kings aims to be a slightly different adaption of the biblical story of Moses. Moses (Christian Bale) is a general in the Pharaoh’s (John Turturro) army along with the Pharaoh’s biological son Ramses (Joel Edgerton). While visiting the slave quarters Moses is told by Nun (Ben Kingsley) that he is a Hebrew boy that managed to escape the slaughter of all Hebrew boys the year he was born. Moses isn’t so keen to believe Nun, but the Pharaoh passes away and Ramses is crowned. When he finds out about Moses’ heritage, he banishes him. Moses becomes a shepherd and stays away for nine years until a vision tells Moses he is the one who must travel back and get Ramses to free the Hebrew slaves.
The general population knows the story of Moses, it is literally one of the oldest stories written down, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers. I believe the statute of limitation has passed.
That being said, as I sat through the two and a half hour run time for Exodus all I could think was that I hoped they put some sort of new spin on it later on because I was so bored. There are slow movies and then there are movies that cannot be described as anything other than boring, dull, and dry. The movie could have cut thirty minutes easily, probably more, because we spend far too long with Moses before he is approached by God to free the Hebrews. I’m not sure if cutting the movie shorter would have even helped, because the long time run is exasperated by terrible pacing. The trailers and marketing are showcasing the plagues that befall Egypt when Ramses refuses to release the slaves, but in reality the plagues don’t start until the movie is two thirds of the way over.
As I waited for the plagues to start I hoped that maybe they would be interesting or at least more entertaining, but they somehow managed to make even the plagues boring. All the plagues did for me was make me want the parting of the red sea, the climax and big scene of the movie, to finally come. Then, maybe then, something in this movie wouldn’t be so dull that I was nearly falling asleep. With effects budgets these days I couldn’t wait to see the red sea part. It looked amazing in an animated movie from six years ago, it even looked neat in 1956, so I could only imagine what they could do now. Then they ruined it. The posters and marketing make it look like there are huge walls of water but in reality Moses didn’t so much “part the red sea” as he “made the water run off”. That wave that the trailers focus on takes five minutes to appear and wash everyone away. There are three tornadoes in the background that are there for no reason whatsoever. It was at that moment I wanted to throw my arms up in the air and ask how a movie made in 1956 seems more epic and grandiose than one made in 2014.
Then there is the not so small issue of the casting. There have been several arguments since the casting was announced that were trying to defend it. Yes, I know that the Egyptian Kingdom was much larger at this time and was probably fairly diverse. Yes, I know that The Ten Commandments was cast with a primarily white cast. I come down on the side that there is no excuse for so many characters in this movie to be white. It takes place in Egypt so why is Aaron Paul walking around? They didn’t even try to make Christian Bale look Egyptian. The Ten Commandments was made nearly sixty years ago; we should be doing better now. On top of the casting being quite racist, it is also a distraction. Any moment I felt like I might have gotten swept up, Bale, or Paul or Sigourney Weaver would appear and it would knock me back to reality. The extremely poor casting made an already dull movie somehow even less immersive.
I understand that the writers wanted to take some liberties with the story to try and make it their own, but none of them worked. There was a long battle at the beginning of the movie that, while staged quite nicely, didn’t have any point other than to have Moses save Ramses life. That battle is the same battle we’ve seen in countless other war movies that take place in this sort of time period. The way that everything is staged, by the end I almost wanted to root for Ramses because during the plagues a lot of focus was on the suffering of the innocent Egyptians. At one point, after all of the first born sons are killed, Ramses asks Moses how he could support a God that kills children. Moses’ reply is “no Hebrew children were killed” which is not the point at all. I understand that the movie wanted to frame the plagues as terrible, but it goes too far and somehow makes Moses come out nearly an antagonist. That could have been an interesting angle to pursue, much like Noah earlier this year, but the movie does nothing with it.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a movie everyone is going to be talking about, but not for the right reasons. The most interesting thing that will come out of this movie will be furthering the discussion of race in Hollywood. That discussion, while extremely important, is not worth the two and half hours of your life you won’t get back if you see this movie. If you want to watch a movie about a biblical story rent Noah or find a copy of The Prince of Egypt.