Exodus: Gods and Kings Review
The Moses epic has had more theatrical adaptations than perhaps any other Biblical episode. Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is its most recent iteration. Controversial before its release for not casting Egyptian actors in lead roles – and banned in some countries – Exodus begins with Moses (Christian Bale) living as an adoptive prince of Egypt. When his hidden Hebrew roots are uncovered, he is exiled, and discovers God. A struggle between Pharaoh Ramses and Moses then begins, with at stake the liberation of Hebrews from slavery.
Yet, Exodus is a disappointing effort. The viewer is left cold by Moses’ cause, and too little time is spent with any character to form attachments. The shift from Moses the sceptic to Moses the prophet is managed unsuccessfully. Moses, sympathetic at first, seems fanatical after his sudden conversion. As a result, the antagonist Ramses is often the more likeable of the two.
More crucially, Scott comes across as hesitant about the supernatural elements of the story. The plagues are understated both visually and in their importance to the plot, as if the director thought them embarrassing. This would have worked had Scott chosen to leave open the question of whether God is indeed a participant in the tale. This isn’t the case. As a result, the miracles, which should be key to the progression of the film, are anticlimactic.
Dialogues sound obviously anachronistic. Ramses, at sword point mentions economics as a reason for not freeing the Hebrews. Romantic scenes between Moses and his wife, Zipporah, played by Maria Valverde are excruciatingly oversentimental.
In terms of performances, Christian Bale lends much needed charisma to Moses, especially in the first half of the film, when he acts as a general and a father. Joel Edgerton conjures a Ramses rational and sensitive. It’s a stretch to believe him capable of horrors. Ben Kingsley as Pharaoh Nun makes a short but poignant appearance as Moses’ de facto mentor. Scott is inventive in his representation of God as a child. However, Isaac Andrew’s act is too fragile, and his British accent is jarring in the context.
Effects create a spectacular view of Memphis and offer a lifelike portrayal of its Hebrew dwellings, made to look like slums. Yet events such as the opening of the red sea are monotonous, as are God’s manifestations. The costuming is luxuriant and sticks closely to previous depictions of the story. The converted Bale looks much alike his cinematic predecessors in their bearded and shawled panache.
Watching Exodus: Gods and Kings truly brings nostalgia for The Prince of Egypt, which, while with a pious message, had more charm with its characters, songs and picturesque animation. Even the silly grandiosity of the 1956 Ten Commandments seems more appealing. Like a few of Scott’s films, namely Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, Exodus: Gods and Kings brings an epoch to life through its effects, but its characters are devoid of interest. With the supernatural elements of Exodus, Scott missed an opportunity to create awe-inspiring visuals. It is a pity that contemporary VFX technology was not put to better use.