Exodus is the latest entry into the recent influx of Christian-themed films, but fortunately, has more in common with Noah (2014) than say, God's Not Dead. Furthermore, with names such as Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul attached to it, expectations were running moderately to fairly high.
I'm not going to lie, I was not enormously excited going in. Ridley Scott's recent output has been increasingly inconsistent as of late, the controversy over casting Caucasian actors as Egyptians and Hebrews was funnier to me than anything, and I'm not a biggest fan of the subject matter in the first place. The only real aspect that caught my attention was that some Christian groups were boycotting it, so SOMETHING had to be mildly interesting about it.
Three hours later, I walked out of the most boring, lazy, confusing, toe-curlingly, head-bashingly, bafflingly, frustratingly bad excuse for "epic film-making" that I honestly can EVER remember. I was so infuriated that I kicked over the cardboard cut-out promo for Exodus on the way out and wanted a refund. Or at the very least, that time of my life back.
There is SO much wrong with Exodus, it's almost impossible to know where to start. So let's start chipping away at this 200 million dollar pile of shit and try to find something that justifies the $200 million and effort of the hundreds or even thousands of crew (basically, everyone except the writers and director) blown on it.
Alright, let's get this over with; everyone in the Western world is be vaguely familiar with the story of Gladiator...sorry, my bad, Moses, the slavery and exodus of the Hebrews by Rameses, the plagues, 40 year walk through a desert (lol) and so on. The movie jumps straight in to Maximus...sorry, my mistake, Moses' adult life, where he's a general in the Roma...sorry, Egyptian army, has a slightly antagonistic relationship with Commod...my mistake, Ramses (the scripting hardly establishes the supposed brotherly-love before the conflict arises), is the chosen successor to the throne and preferred, yet adopted son of Marcus Aur...DAMMIT, Seti 1, back in the "glory days" (i.e. completely corrupt and kind of a shithole, really) of ancient Rom...Egypt. There's also a battle at the start, and a showdown between the former friends/surrogate brothers at the end in the Colosseum/Red Sea/can't tell anymore.
Seriously...what movie am I watching again?
Exodus steals so many elements of Gladiator, attempts to repackage it, patent it, slap it on a plastic lunchbox and sell it, except for one crucial, tiny flaw...
You actually like, you know, gave a shit about the characters in Gladiator. This was due to a number of factors ranging from extensive collaborations with the actors, to highly-respected play write John Logan being brought on to make the story more relatable (apparently Maximus was a tad more bloodthirsty in the original script), and William Nicholson's rewrites during production (the afterlife theme, Maximus' and Juba's friendship and Maximus' more tender moments were all his contributions) really made you care about what was happening every step of the way.
Perhaps the screenwriters were aware of this (Gladiator is one of the more highly rated and definitely most successful of Ridley Scott's Renaissance) and simply grafted the classic story of Moses onto that and hoped that no one would notice. They potentially could have gotten away with it, but completely blew it when they STOLE DIALOGUE DIRECTLY FROM GLADIATOR. No joke, the "he sleeps so well because he's loved" scene is word for word, shot for shot lifted ripped from Gladiator!
So then stuff happens, and after the Red Sea sequence, it literally feels like the writers were in such a rush to wrap it up (early cuts ran over 4 hours, and man does it show) that the last ten minutes feel like a preview of the next movie. Mercifully, there won't be one though. I hope.
So how were the more fantastical elements handled? Interestingly, to say the least. The plagues sequence is by far the most successful, and is the most interesting part of the film (apart from some hilariously awkward attempts at comic relief). The parting of the Red Seas is justified as actually being a tsunami(?!!!) and (spoiler) God is portrayed as a psychopathic, passive-aggressive, spoilt little shit of a kid. Yep, you read that correctly. Oh, and he only appears after Moses is struck on the head during an avalanche, and is actually depicted as only being visible to Moses himself. Bale has openly declared that he chose to portray Moses as a "schizophrenic savage", which really begs the question;
"So who is this meant to be marketed for?"
So, in classic TL;DR mode, I summarise Exodus thusly:
Pacing and scripting are horrendous, dialogue laughable, unprecedented and awkward shifts in tone, everything feels tired and clichéd. Direction is lazy and uninspired (Ridley Scott was probably asleep in the director’s chair the whole time), plainly I awful cinematography (seriously, not one visually interesting shot in sight), acting is at best barely passable and at worse, well, even the awesome Aaron Paul just seems to have no idea where he is or what he's meant to be doing. The attempt to interpret the more fantastical elements of the story, (no snake staffs though, which I was actually looking forward to) in a potentially realistic way is interesting but ultimately self-defeating, as its inaccuracy to the Bible is turning many Christian groups away, yet still seems rather pointless for non-believers to watch or enjoy as it is basically as enjoyable as my memories of trying not to fall asleep in Sunday school.
At least Sunday school was over in an hour.
2 Bibles/5 (extra star because at least it kept a couple of thousand people employed for a year or two)
Slight spoilers in this review, but the book has been out for long enough.
A knife cuts into a goose, a prophecy foretelling a leader being saved and overthrown by the same man is spoken, we are told (told- not shown because subtle exposition is hard) that Moses and Ramses are as close as brothers, they then go off to fight in a battle that someone who hadn’t seen the Lord of the Rings would describe as “good”, it is revealed that Moses is a Jew, he is exiled, wanders, finds wife, finds new god, talks to new god, fights Egypt then God CGI shits on Egypt for the rest of the runtime. Sound schizophrenic and slightly boring? Welcome to Exodus: Gods and Kings…
Funnily enough the story portrays Moses as an agnostic for the first act of the movie, with him rejecting prophecies, the Egyptian gods and his wife’s religion. I must however question Scott’s choice to portray him as such, a crisis of belief or a conflict of identity would have at least given Moses places to grow as a character. As it stands he just seems to be a blank Everyman waiting for a sharp knock on his head. Yes Moses starts seeing god (portrayed as a little kid for whatever reason) after being caught in a landslide, hardly inspiring stuff. Less divine intervention and more brain trauma induced auditory-visual hallucinations. The crack addict behind the bus shelter also believes god talks to him, perhaps I should follow him.
Once God has revealed himself he acts petty, brutally violent, manipulative and uses overly convoluted ways to bend people to his will (I’ve dated women like this). God seems to be a child rather than a superior being taking the form of a child, albeit a child with limitless power, think Damien from The Omen. God seems to always choose the path that will lead to the most bloodshed and the most spectacular destruction. Ok Ridley, you’ve turned the lord into a hybrid of Genghis Khan and Michael Bay, what’s the point to all this?
All of the Israelites take Moses at his word that he is actually the Messiah, this leads to disconnects such as Moses going from leading a team of a few dozen guerrilla Israelites on raids to suddenly leading half a million out of Egypt. Where was the big rousing speech to the people? Where were the raised eyebrows when somebody claimed to be talking to God? Had nobody in the cast or crew seen the Life of Brian?
Speaking of lack of cultural awareness, criticism has been levelled at Ridley Scott over his casting of mostly Caucasian actors in a movie set in ancient Egypt. Between Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Aaron “yeah divinity bitch!” Paul it’s hard to argue that the main cast doesn’t somewhat resemble mayonnaise sandwiches. For whatever reason a filmmaker decides to cast someone, be it a creative choice or more likely in this case the big name draw, I feel it’s their choice to make and a film can be great regardless of the race of the actors in it (within reason, Mel Gibson staring as MLK in a long overdue biopic of the late reverend’s life would be a quantifiably bad decision). If you are however going to stack the deck against yourself, and caught controversy at least make the goddamn movie a joy to watch.
Exodus clocks in at two and a half hours, and believe me it is a very long two and a half hours. After being introduced to the key players, the film just seems to kill time until we inevitably get to the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. I don’t get the feeling that this flick is trying to sell a religion, I don’t get the feeling that it is trying to be Scott’s thesis on mankind’s need for the divine, I’m actually not sure who this movie is for I only know that I wouldn’t want to be stuck next to them on a long flight. A contrast to this movie would be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, going into Dawn you know that the humans and apes aren’t going to be able to make lasting peace, but it’s damn interesting watching them try. Exodus (much like the Israelites after the Red Sea) just wanders aimlessly for (what seems like) 40 years. So that’s where we are at in 2014, the visionary filmmaker behind Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma & Louise has managed to make a film with less humanity and interest than the fucking monkey movie.
Much like the splayed guts of the goose at the start, this film is a bloody mess.
Note: Any mention of “God” throughout this review is referring to the character God that is portrayed in this movie. I'm not trying to incite religious hatred; I'm trying to review a movie. If you want to argue theology with strangers on the internet, try Reddit.