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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott returns with another sword and sandals epic, but his take on the popular Bible story of Moses is more Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator. Skipping the fun subterfuge of Moses’ infancy, Exodus picks up with Egyptian general Moses (Christian Bale) and his friendship with future pharaoh Ramses (a very hairless Joel Edgerton). The film ensures you know that Ramses is jealous of Moses’ relationship with Ramses’ royal papa, Seti (John Turturro), but still trusts his childhood pal. The early battle against the Hittites rocks and rolls, but the film quickly gets bogged down in Moses’ discovery of his true heritage and faith. All the highlights are hit. The burning bush is swell, though God’s decision to appear as a small boy, who vaguely hints at Jake Lloyd’s unpopular Anakin in Star Wars: Episode I, is questionable. (How about Morgan Freeman or Alanis Morissette?) The plagues are intriguingly realized as natural events that follow one from another, until darkness and the whole firstborn death curse. As expected, computer effects realize an epic parting of the Red Sea. Even the etching of the Ten Commandments gets tossed in. Exodus, cobbled together by five screenwriters, including the Academy Award winning Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), make sure not to leave any events out. 

Comparisons with Darren Aronofsky’s controversial Noah are bound to come up, and Exodus is the lesser film, as it is more generically palatable. Noah tested conventional biblical beliefs, and that challenge confounds people. Noah has more in common with Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Exodus is like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments on CGI steroids. Bale might be one of the few actors who can rival Heston for how intensely he can Moses. Unfortunately, he and ultimately the plot lack an epic emotional component, which the film struggles to recover post-climax. Bale portrays Moses with a great deal of strength but fails to convey his humanity. He feels like a prototypical hero, when the biblical Moses should be more. I’m a sucker for Bible stories; I loved annually viewing The Ten Commandments when I was younger. For all its flaws, Exodus still entertainingly tells a good story. Could it have been more? Certainly. But it’s becoming less surprising when Scott fails to hit his epic marks.