Screened Out – Exodus: Gods and Kings

By : Stephen Miller
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Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Isaac Andrews

It might be funny to imagine an inspiring Biblical story rendered as a distracting, schlocky blockbuster – something worth a Saturday Night Live skit. Actually, Ridley Scott (Bladerunner, Aliens, Prometheus) does it but takes himself seriously. The rest of us cannot. This is just a big, loud piece of popcorn fluff.

In truth, Exodus was plagued from the get-go. Biblical scholars disparage it for its reinvention of the Moses mythology. Actors hate it because it casts well-known white people as Egyptians (a problem it shared with the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille version, The Ten Commandments). As a special effects orgy of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, Exodus is trite fun. As a sensitive tale about a man discovering his true origin, connecting with God, and then freeing his people, it’s pretty hollow and bombastic.

Because this is Ridley Scott, the scenery, the costumes, the battles, and the special effects are solid. Unfortunately, Exodus is all far-fetched visuals, fight scenes, and bland pontificating instead of real heart. In emotional connection, it fails when compared to The Prince of Egypt and even The Ten Commandments.

We all know the story. Moses (Bale) is found in the reeds and adopted by Egyptian royalty. When he later discovers that he is Jewish – in kin with hundreds of thousands of Egyptian slaves – he starts a religious quest.

Then there’s the burning bush. In this version, God visits Moses in the form of a petulant, angry boy (Andrews). It’s just one of a handful of odd choices sure to make orthodox Jews and Christians angry.

sigourney-weaver

A miscast Sigourney Weaver and other great actors are reduced to hamming it up in bit parts.

Ramses (a shallow Edgerton) finds his brother is Jewish, and Moses is exiled. It’s not as bad as it seems, as Moses spends nine idyllic years getting married, having a kid, and starting a business as a sheepherder while his adopted brother takes over the kingdom.

We all know Moses will succeed after a magic trick in Ramses’ chamber, ten visually stunning plagues, and an epic parting of the Red Sea – oh, and lots of battles I don’t recall from church school. The plagues are cool enough, in that they’re grand without going into too much detail about the suffering they cause (except the boils, which belong in a horror flick). The Red Sea is just plain awesome.

Yet, instead of taking us on a unified emotional journey through this, Scott tends to skip around to the special effects. Instead of character development, he seems to begrudgingly throw in a tender scene here and there, willy-nilly. Wars and computer effects fill the screen, stretching this out to nearly three hours.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Bale is very, very understated. Despite walking around with peacocks and snakes, the normally talented Edgerton is just dead wood here. Great actors like Turturro, Weaver and especially Kingsley are relegated to almost cameos.

In total, Exodus is the overblown, extravagant Red Sea and a bunch of other effects. Even the colon in the title points to the fact that this has more in common with ‘80s popcorn blockbusters than it does anything deep, heartfelt, and spiritual.

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