“Exodus: Gods and Kings” Movie Review

     Similar to "Noah" earlier this year, Ridley Scott's epic retelling of the biblical story of Moses, "Exodus: Gods and Kings", is best consumed as escapist entertainment, rather than a literal translation that begs for criticism and endless debate over perceived inaccuracies.  In choosing such a project, Scott likely saw it as an opportunity to gloss the proceedings with his signature and usually awe inspiring visual style and for the most part, that's exactly what he delivers.  Unfortunately, the four credited screenwriters (Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steve Zaillian) are unable to create any semblance of a cohesive narrative and their dialogue leaves the actors in a position in which they come off as corny and unconvincing.  Whereas Scott succeeds in creating two battle sequences, one at the beginning and one near the end, that have plenty of excitement and appeal, they become overshadowed by a long and clunky middle section that consistently misfires and leaves the audience with numerous questions unanswered.

     Scott opens the picture with a sequence featuring his two leads, Christian Bale playing Moses and Joel Edgerton playing Ramses, as they are given a mission by their father, Seti, who is played by a miscast John Turturro.  As they prepare to lead their army into battle against a clearly overmatched and seemingly barbaric opponent, Scott strikes a tone that seems eerily familiar.  As Alberto Iglesias' score amps up with bombastic strikes of the drum and Ramses gives the order to attack, audiences may recall a very similar opening scene in Scott's Academy Award winning "Gladiator" as all that  seems to be missing is a line uttered by Bale or Edgerton that plays as powerfully as Russell Crowe calmly telling his troops "On my command....unleash hell."  The Egyptian army moves in and handles their foe with relative ease, albeit in a very PG-13 way unlike the aforementioned "Gladiator", as we are able to establish as an audience that Ramses intends on utilizing his power as the next in line after his father and relegating Moses to doing the dirty work. 

     As I mentioned earlier, Scott has spared no expense in bringing this story to life with the high end repertoire of modern computer generated imagery at his disposal.  As most are already familiar with the story, you can imagine that beyond the highly detailed renderings of Egyptian cities with the camera seemingly floating high above the pyramids in every scene, Scott must've really felt the need to seize the creative opportunity in bringing to the screen his visual depictions of the various plagues brought against Egypt via the wrath of God for the atrocities they had committed.  The most compelling portions of "Exodus" are these scenes in which Rameses and his people become the recipient of a diverse wave of unexplained attacks that include crocodiles brutally attacking fisherman, frogs, flys, and locusts swarming the city, and unsightly skin legions covering the faces of the Egyptians.  Of course, the film also wants you to believe this is the result of a 10 year old boy who presents himself to Moses throughout the film as God and warns him of each attack against Egypt.  For the religious types out there, I have to figure this depiction will likely be a controversial sticking point.

     As Egypt continues to endure their unexplainable fate, Moses, who is now estranged from Rameses over a squabble in which it is revealed he is not his brother and is actually a Hebrew, pleads with Rameses to free the 600,000 slaves he continues to hold captive and warns of more attacks to come from God.  Ultimately, this leads to Moses leading the slaves in their escape and the famous story in which Moses parts the sea is staged as the climax of the film.  In truth, much of this is quite entertaining to watch, but in a marketplace in which superhero and science fiction/fantasy films regularly up the ante on high level action sequences, the biblical roots of  "Exodus" seem to hold back the filmmaker's creative abilities which makes the final product less impressive when compared to other blockbuster genre films. 

     There are several issues with the film's pacing as well as major holes in the story that are never explained.  In one scene, Moses visits Seti, who is lying down and is said to be sick.  They have a normal conversation in which Seti shows no signs of labor as he speaks, only the presence of leeches on his arm tell us that perhaps something may be wrong, but other than that he seems fine.  When the conversation concludes, the scene immediately cuts to Seti's funeral, which itself is a massive production, and leads the way to Rameses becoming the Pharaoh and ruler of Egypt.  I found this odd that Scott didn't choose to shoot a more dramatic death scene or at least give a hint that Seti was terminally ill.  As the act plays out, you feel as though you missed something and wonder for a few minutes who exactly that is mummified and being buried in a tomb.  This isn't so much a situation where you would applaud Scott for treating the audience with intelligence, rather it comes off as a serious continuity issue and "Exodus" is loaded with them.

     When putting together a cast for a film with such epic intentions, there's a likelihood the studio will welcome big name actors in small roles so as to populate the marketing materials with all star cast tag lines that bring instant credibility.  No one has an issue with this, but one of the most surprising things to me is how little many of them are used.  As Rameses' mother, Tuya, Sigourney Weaver appears in the background in a handful of scenes and may have uttered one line early and then disappears completely.  If the role was purposely meant to be minimal, then why cast Weaver and completely waste her presence in the film?  To a lesser extent, the same can be said for Ben Kingsley's Nun and Aaron Paul's Joshua as both are never afforded the ability to be as impactful as they should be.  As the narrative moves on, you begin to realize the actors were never meant to invoke the kind of emotion that would've made "Exodus" a high end awards worthy experience.  Instead, it has been packaged for a mass worldwide audience and may look good on paper, but is destined to be forgotten amongst Scott's many classic films.  GRADE: C-