Ridley Scott has been once of the most influential motion picture directors of all time. Right from the infamous Apple commercial, he’s been redefining whichever genre he’s dabbled in. Unfortunately in the last ten years, he’s become something we’re increasingly growing weary of – a singularly disappointing motion picture director.
Exodus: Gods and Kings has most of the same problems that his last few features had been afflicted with. It looks gorgeous, promises something interesting and out of the box, but instead ends up being a derivative, melodramatic and severely underwhelming mess.
The film stars an ironically named Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Rameses, John turturro as Seti and Sigourney Weaver as Tuya. With a cast like that, Scott behind the helm, and the legendary Steve Zaillian as the writer, with a budget of $150 million, what could possibly go wrong? Sadly the first of many problems is a massive one that you just can’t overlook: we’ve already seen this movie twice before – first in live action format (The Ten Commandments) and also in animation format (The Prince of Egypt). There is nothing, absolutely nothing new that Scott and his team bring to table. The only difference is that this movie is significantly worse in every way than its predecessors.
The story is of course, the same, note for note. The adopted Moses grows up in the palace of the Egyptian Seti, fighting alongside Rameses as his military advisor and enslaving Hebrews, unaware that he himself is one of them. Rameses gets to hear of a prophesy of a Hebrew overthrowing the Egyptian empire and banishes Moses to the desert. Moses then covertly trains Hebrews to rebellion, and with god’s help he sets his people free. Scott is never sure of his target audience – on one hand he tries to pander to people who haven’t seen the aforementioned films before, but he doesn’t say or do anything new. At other times he just rips off the first two movies and simply replaces the imagery with different CGI.
The visuals are another source of frustration in the film. In the previous movies every fantastical set piece was an eye-popping spectacle. In this movie every plot point passes by like a mundane checkpoint, rather than a great, fantastic motion picture event. It’s time to showcase the plague, Scott says and his team of artists quickly whips up CGI locusts in ten minutes. The blood red river? No problem, a button press and you see the Nile turn red. The sequence where the first born in every household dies is supposed to be scary, but here you’re made to twiddle your thumbs and just wait for the overlong scene to get over.
The huge draw is supposed to be the red sea parting, and you won’t believe how limp and anticlimactic the sequence plays out in Exodus. The red sea doesn’t part, it just drains aside, and it actually feels like they ran out of money to create the sequence. Perhaps Scott’s intentions were to make it more realistic, but it’s not justified because he doesn’t bother to authenticate the other magical stuff. It’s just another example of Scott being unsure of what to do with an already overused story. Darren Aronofsky mildly attempted to mix things up in Noah by presenting the protagonist as an antagonist, Scott doesn’t do anything of that sort – he force feeds us what religion orders you to follow. If someone like Scott at this point of his life can’t take risks then the end is pretty much nigh.
The acting doesn’t wow you wither – this is the laziest ever screen role from Bale. Neither does he change his voice, nor his gait, he just lumbers around looking bored. Unlike in Noah where Russell Crowe’s fiery acting anchored a mediocre movie, Bale phones in his performance. Joel Edgerton is passably good mostly because of his makeup, and Weaver, Aaron Paul and Mendelsohn are wasted in bit parts, most probably ending up on the cutting room floor. It was for the best though, because the film already runs an excruciating two and a half hours, piling on one snooze inducing set piece after another. If all that weren’t enough the filmmakers (or more aptly the studio) forces us to see the film in terrible 3D, pushing the final nail in the coffin as deep as possible.
(First published in Firstpost)