Scott’s bland Bible epic could’ve used a Xenomorph
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Exodus: Gods and Kings
A few months ago, Quentin Tarantino ruffled some feathers by stating that he doesn’t plan to remain active as a filmmaker in his 60s. The man behind Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds argued that filmmaking is a young man’s game, pointing not too subtly at the mediocre output of a few, er, “veteran” directors whose best days are clearly behind them as proof.
I don’t necessarily agree with his point overall, but it’s hard to argue when you’re talking about Ridley Scott. The 77-year-old has definitely remained prolific, with a bunch of films this century — but he hasn’t made a relevant one since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. As for his last two, Prometheus squandered the public’s love for Alien, while The Counselor had a couple of good ideas lost in over-the-top nonsense.
Exodus: Gods and Kings should’ve been right in Scott’s wheelhouse, as a ridiculously expensive epic set in yesteryear. But unlike Darren Aronofsky’s approach with the unfairly maligned Noah, Scott plays it absolutely straight here, with no edge whatsoever.
The pharaoh Ramses’ brother from another mother, Moses (Christian Bale), is banished from the kingdom following the discovery of his Hebrew heritage. The rift grows exponentially when, uh, God gets involved and orders Moses to get his people from Egypt. Frogs, lice, locusts and other pests ensue.
The film often feels like going to church, and not in a good way (snooze), as Scott and the four writers involved in the script fail to find any relevant interpretation other than the obvious one. Earlier this year, Aronofsky turned the otherwise-preposterous tale of Noah into a meditation about fanaticism, while Exodus is literal to a fault. Except for where it should have been, of course: the utterly Caucasian leads are distracting, particularly against a more racially accurate background.
The vanilla stars are far from the only problem. Christian Bale uses the same overly intense, unsympathetic persona he’s employed in Terminator Salvation, Public Enemies and the Dark Knight movies, and each and every time it’s gotten a little more boring. Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) as Ramses fares worse, as his motivations are just as muddled as his personality. Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver (Alien reunion!) also stumble in Exodus, but their roles are too small to register.
The break between Ramses and Moses is supposed to be harrowing, thereby shaping the rest of the movie, but their relationship is never developed far enough (or coherently enough) for us to care. A major faux pas is the character of, uh, God. Instead of the disembodied voice we’ve become used to, the film uses a kid to interact with Moses. But because we’re talking about the Old Testament, this is an angry, merciless and authoritative deity — so no matter how good the child actor is, he didn’t have a chance to be believable.
Not everything is a loss: Exodus springs to life during the depiction of the seven plagues, and Scott is clearly aware that this is the most cinematic aspect of the story, so he throws every nasty little detail onto the screen, to great effect. Unfortunately, that 15 minutes of engrossing mayhem is no match for the other two hours of handsomely shot tedium.