Exodus: Gods and Kings
It’s hard not to view Exodus: Gods and Kings as Ridley Scott’s response to the negative critical reception that greeted his Cormac McCarthy crime-thriller The Counselor. By returning to the swords-and-sandals genre, he seems to be attempting to recreate the success of his Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser Gladiator. It’s ultimately the wrong decision.
Scott’s epic retelling of the story of Moses (Christian Bale) begins with Moses’ exile from the Egyptian royal family when he is discovered to be of Hebrew heritage. After spending nine years in the wilderness, Moses begins to have visions of God and is compelled to return to Egypt to free his enslaved people from cruel pharaoh Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton).
Scott can still compose breathtakingly beautiful images and the CGI fire and brimstone he rains down on Ramesses’ kingdom is impressively apocalyptic, with frogs rising from rivers of blood and ships set aflame on moonlit waves. However, there is little depth behind the imagery and at times the film feels more like an expertly-directed Old Testament highlights reel than a compelling story in its own right.
The character of Moses is poorly-defined, with only a handful of dramatically inert scenes with God’s representative on earth, Malak (Isaac Andrews), providing any real insight into his emotional life. As a result, his struggle to bring about the exodus of the title is strangely uninvolving. The viewer is never given a good enough reason to care about him or his mission, save for the fact that his adopted-brother Ramesses is an egomaniacal tyrant, and Bale portrays Moses as a dour, brooding figure with whom it’s hard to empathise.
Despite the accusations of racial whitewashing that have been levelled at the film, using white Hollywood actors to play Egyptian nobles is a stroke of genius, becoming a visual metaphor for the gross inequality of their society. As camp, gold skirt-wearing character actors John Turturro and Ben Mendelsohn espouse segregation and the divine right of kings, there is never any doubt as to where the audience’s sympathy is supposed to lie and the supremacist overlords are portrayed as grotesque fools.
In the end, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a sombre, brutal reimagining of the Exodus story that often plays like a collection of wonderful images linked together by an uninspired screenplay that only skims the surface of world-changing biblical events. It’s a real missed opportunity.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is released nationwide on 26th December 2014.
Watch the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings here: