Ah, ancient Egypt. Land of CGI pyramids and copious amounts of eyeliner. A land where John Turturro got lost during the last Transformers movie so they made him pharaoh. It’s a dark, dusty world, where slaves like Aaron Paul are whipped for trying his hand at something other than Breaking Bad. It’s also the setting of Ridley Scott’s latest movie, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, a movie that will have you begging for the Red Sea to come crashing down on your head long before the credits roll.
The movie begins with something moviegoers have never seen before: a thunderous battle between two armies of thousands. Well, at least it’s somewhat interesting this time since they’re riding chariots. Problem is, a prophecy was told before the battle started that if Ramses (Joel Edgerton) is saved by someone, that someone will take over as the real leader. Who saves him from certain doom? None other than his adopted brother, Moses, played by Christian Bale doing his best 1300 BC Bruce Wayne.
Now suspicious of Moses taking over, it doesn’t take much for Ramses to kick Moses out of the house and sends him out on his own in the desert. Nine years later, Moses has a family and is happy, until God shows up in the form of a nine year old petulant little punk and tells Moses to go save all the Hebrew people from slavery. Ramses is now the pharaoh, and much like the Veruca Salt of ancient Egypt, he wants giant monuments and he wants them NOW! The slaves are being driven harder than ever, and when Moses shows up to incite riots, they are swiftly quelled.
God as the angry brat shows up again to complain it’s taking too long, and it’s here Moses asks the question that needs to be asked, that every audience member wants to ask, and it’s the question that undoes the entire movie. Moses asks, these people have been slaves for 400 years, and now you’re impatient to set them free? Okay, maybe Moses is instrumental in saving his people, and in 400 years there has been no other man like him. Sure, I might be able to go with that. But Moses isn’t exactly instrumental in saving the slaves. Rather, it’s back to God using all sorts of plagues to get the job done. Not only that, the plagues end up killing as many Hebrew slaves as they do Egyptian soldiers, if not probably more.
The filmmakers might feel tied to the source material, sure, with its Old Testament God ready to smite the unbelieving and drown the world if it comes to it. But a good movie this straight adaptation does not make. For Moses to barely question an omnipotent being’s lack of use of his unlimited power is bad enough. For Moses to blindly follow this wrathful God, again in the form of a young waif prone to temper tantrums, is severe.
So that brings us to the question, what’s the reason for this movie’s existence? To show off the ten plagues in all that modern HD computer imagery has to offer. There is some sick joy to be had in watching locusts descend on the greedy Egyptians, millions of frogs to hop up on shore, and crocodiles to eat each other (don’t ask). The Red Sea closing back up might be the spectacle of the year. But if showing off awesome effects is the most this movie has to argue, you’re better off checking out a 4K demo at the nearest Best Buy.
The cast also feels hopelessly misplaced. Every time John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, or Aaron Paul show up onscreen and hope to be taken seriously, one can’t help but be taken completely out of the affair at hand. Christian Bale himself often feels most egregious, with hair that appears to be leftover from whatever other project he just wrapped on. I suppose we should at least be happy they took the time to spray-tan Joel Edgerton’s Ramses.
In the year’s other Old Testament flick, Noah, there was an effort toward exploring God’s sometimes difficult to understand will for people who believe in that kind of thing. In Exodus: Gods and Kings, the exploration is thrown to the side in favor of horses falling off a mountain. There’s a nagging throughout that the spectacle the movie offers could have been elevated by a smart script, one that explores theistic quandaries or at the very least gets us invested in its characters, but as it is, the movie delivers an 11th plague: The plague of boredom. I give Exodus: Gods and Kings 2 hungry crocs out of 5.
Score: 2 out of 5