Exodus: Gods and Kings, 2014
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Maria Valverde, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley.
The defiant leader Moses rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
In the hands of director Ridley Scott one thing is certain, and that is that he’ll put everything up on the screen for an audience and he’ll leave hold nothing back (even if that means several director’s cut re-releases) and you can be sure he’ll make damn good use of whatever budget he is given. In Exodus: Gods and Kings, Scott perhaps demonstrates his ability to create big budget spectacles, the likes of which he reinvigorated in 2000 with Gladiator, better than ever before. This film is grand and vast on a scale which makes Noah from earlier this year look like a TV movie, and although it isn’t without its faults, I defy anyone to feel short changed by this biblical epic; and you should know I don’t use the word ‘epic’ loosely.
Scott had borrowed heavily from the success of Gladiator in two subsequent films which he has chosen to make, namely Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, both of which were heavily flawed pictures and far too serious without the dramatic tension they needed for the audience to fully engage. Third time’s a charm of sorts with Exodus: Gods and Kings thanks in no small part to the biblical backdrop which invites the audience to go along and accept with the story rather than feel detached from it.
The story is one we’re all familiar with; Moses (Christian Bale) leads the Israelites from slavery from of the Egyptians, lead by Ramses (Joel Edgerton behind all that eyeliner), across the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. I’m not a religious man nor do I particularly care too much for the accuracies or inaccuracies of this particular rendition, but what I do care about is great film making and Ridley Scott plays his part with sweeping overhead shots, wide angle scenery aplenty, stunning CGI visuals and just the right dose of camp to ensure those biblical classics from the 50s and 60s are still in our minds.
Regrettably, the film opens with a battle scene which only serves to remind us of how original Gladiator felt (and still feels) and just how tired the sight of masses of people running at each other and colliding and fighting has become. At the thirty minute mark I feared the worst for the movie for it appeared to be the same formula but in a different guise; man is at the top, gets forced to the bottom, then rises to the top again but has conflict with a one-time friend along the way. We’ve seen this countless times but once Moses is banished by Ramses the film really picks up, or rather slows down, but necessarily so. As Moses, Bale portrays a man heavily conflicted between family and his mission to save his people, and the film isn’t afraid to spend large parts of its 150 minute running time to allow the audience to understand why Moses does what he does, whilst also seeing the affects of the plague which is put upon the Egyptians and how Ramses must deal with this. You don’t have to be a Bible fanatic to feel for the characters here.
On the topic of the plague, this is where Scott’s film truly surpasses any expectations I may have had; the devastation caused by crocodiles, locusts, frogs, hail stones the size of tennis balls and the ‘destroying angel’ is unrelenting and is not just an excuse for CG mastery, but is a fully realised assault on a population of thousands. Moreover, the film’s climax which depicts the parting of the Red Sea as Moses and Ramses charge toward each other is, unlike the opening battle, a true wonder to behold and it’s the sort of stuff that viewing movies on the big screen was made for.
The film manages to be both deadly serious (a lot of people die, and one sequence is devoted to just the death of children) and the screenplay allows the likes of Bale and Edgerton to do a lot of BIG ACTING which is both commendable yet at times wildly over the top. One issue I had with Noah was the melodramatic and uninteresting final act despite a solid first half, but in this Bible tale Scott plays his hands when their most needed, keeping us interested throughout but also takes chances; I’m sure some might be perturbed by the film depicting God as a young boy but it’s not a version I’d seen before and I welcomed it; after all, who is to say the film is wrong?
My interest in movies like this usually reaches a ceiling which can rarely be broken through, but that’s not always an issue with the movies themselves, just my personal investment in the stories. I never expected high art like Passion of the Christ or The Last Temptation of Christ but Exodus: Gods and Kings is about as an entertaining and exciting big budget and sweeping Bible story I could hope to see.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.