Opposed to the countless concepts being told through cinema, there are a few re-telling of ancient stories that some audiences will continue to find relevant in modern times. This surely includes the biblical epics that continue to appear in a wide variety of media. With Darren Aronofsky's interpretation of Noah, the next logical step is to bring Moses to the big screen. Unfortunately, Aronofsky's picture is quite underwhelming with its countless number of issues, so we could only hope that Moses receives a better treatment on the silver screen. Director Ridley Scott is known for the grand vision that he brings to cinema, so it's certainly a reasonable match. However, Exodus: Gods and Kings proves to suffer from many of the same problems that haunted Noah.
When Moses (Christian Bale) discovers the truth about his past, he's led upon a very different path in life. He's visited by a messenger, who encourages him to rise up against the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses (Joel Edergton) in order to fight for the lives of 600,000 slaves. They set upon an epic journey in order to make an escape from Egypt back to their homeland, all while being forced to endure the effects of the deadly plagues that have come upon the Egyptians. This is the story of a defiant leader, who must overcome physical obstacles, all while facing his inner-most demons.
Exodus: Gods and Kings places us in the middle of the story, rather than starting at the very beginning. Regardless of the fact that most people know the major plot beats of the story, screenwriters Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zaillian utilize the backstory of Moses as a reveal, rather than an introduction. It's like the secret that the audience is completely aware of, but the characters are absolutely oblivious to for the majority of the picture's first half. The feature has more interest in telling the story of a man, rather than of a legend, and so he's often treated as such. The characterization here works, as it feels a bit more intimate than some other more recent biblical epic adaptations, although this only holds true for a certain period of time. However, even that cannot be said of Rhamses. The screenplay places a large amount of emphasis on the relationship that he had with Moses, but it all falls flat. In fact, this can be said about each and every relationship found in the entire film. It all feels so incredibly scripted, that the characters come across as being trapped within individual vacuums. While a couple of the roles are intriguing by themselves, the connections made throughout the duration are nearly non-existant. The audience is supposed to feel the toll of this epic biblical journey, but instead, it's more like a superficial detour.
Like any other biblical epic, it's not a short film. Running at 2 hour and 30 minutes, it shouldn't surprise anybody. Fortunately, the pacing isn't an issue. In fact, it moves along fairly smoothly, as there isn't much unneeded exposition to speak of. The first half of the duration is a bit more interesting than the latter half, but if you're searching for the picture's thrills, they're delivered in the form of plagues and a chase sequence, both of which feel successfully large in scale. Exodus: Gods and Kings isn't trying to educate us on the story of Moses as much as it is trying to make an action movie out of it. The formula will instantly be recognized from other modern genre films, except it simply doesn't work as well. The intrigue that the first half develops is replaced by big set pieces that simply don't leave us in awe in the way that Ridley Scott is hoping to achieve. Instead, the final act is an vessel for a message that simply isn't very effective. Rather, it's a rehash of everything that we've seen before, except a bit more underwhelming.
There's a clear message being told here that is essentially hitting us over the head throughout the course of the finale. However, it's ultimately far too preachy for its own good, while trying to end on the note of an action flick. It just doesn't work. There are so many ways that a story about Moses could be translated to the silver screen, as there isn't a doubt that it's worthy of receiving the big screen treatment. Ridley Scott and his writers desperately needed direction and restraint, as the feature severely lacks both of these qualities. It's expecting us to be stunned by this whirlwind of different tones and genres, when it really finds itself to be more of a chaotic mess that refuses to pursue a single goal. It's understandable why Ridley Scott would want this to be epic, violent, dramatic, and personal, but none of them are done particularly well in their entirety. Hopefully the next filmmaker to pick up such an epic for the big screen thinks a bit more carefully about what they will be able to achieve.
Aside from having a big name in the director's chair, there are several well-known members to be found within the cast. Christian Bale is decent enough as Moses, but he's rather restrained. This could partly be due to the constricting material, but it becomes increasing difficult to connect with him on a personal level, as the screenplay is so obviously intending. Joel Edgerton feels a bit more fitting as Rhamses, as the demanding nature of the character is communicated rather well. The performance works, but it isn't anything too special to write home about. The film features a wide array of big names in supporting roles, such as Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, and Ben Mendelsohn. However, none of them are given much to do. It simply feels as if they're here just to work with Ridley Scott, as some of them offer no more than a few lines of dialogue. There's a lot of wasted potential here.
Unlike Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings a cohesive visual signature throughout the running tim. With the exception of a few frames, it looks like typical Hollywood action picture. The color palette isn't particularly interesting, and the majority of the feature looks rather standard. However, there are a few specific scenes to speak of where Ridley Scott brings his visual signature into play, and it pays off. These are wide and epic shots that feel mountainous in scale. The juxtaposition of a large wave next to a white horse, or the huge number of slaves working on a tall statue instills a sense of wonderment that ceases to exist anywhere else in the picture. While some of this CG looks rather excellent, other bits are a bit "cartoonish," particularly when digital animals are inserted. The 3D is useless, for the most part. Aside from some key scenes in which it particularly stands out, you'll find yourself forgetting that you're even watching it in this format. If you really must see this on the big screen, I would suggest 2D in order to get the full array of color being employed.
Even with a considerable amount of talent in front of, as well as behind the camera, this biblical epic is all over the place. It's most successful in its first act, when it pays attention to the character, and providing what some may consider a slightly different perspective on the story. However, it ultimately twists into a formula that one would expect to find in an action flick, and the story and its characters go right out the window. I suppose this is what happens when four completely different writers are employed with varied visions. Fortunately, it has a solid sense of pacing that moves relatively smoothly through its 2 hour and 30 minute running time. It's never dull, and Scott occasionally brings us the visual style that we've missed seeing on the big screen. Exodus: Gods and Kings is a directionless epic that wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Rent it.