'Exodus: Gods and Kings' proves as dry as its desert setting
PHOTO BY 20TH CENTURY FOX
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre (in 2-D and 3-D), Park (in 2-D and 3-D), Sunset Drive-In
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $1.00
What's it worth?: $1.00
Epic adventure Exodus: Gods and Kings is the story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state-of-the-art visual effects and 3-D immersion, Ridley Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues. (150 min.)
Ed. Note: Arts Editor Jessica Peña and intern Adriana Catanzarite—both of New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north—filled in for regular reviewer Glen Starkey this week.
Jessica: Once in a while you come across a film so grand and so completely compelling that it restores your faith in cinema. Exodus: Gods and Kings is not that movie. Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien) returns to the sword and sandal epic genre for this operatic adaptation of the Book of Exodus—a story so vast in scale and time, it’s almost tailor-made for the movies. It has everything: Ancient Egypt, mean pharaohs, oppressed underdogs, sheep, and a burning bush! Aside from Revelation and the nude garden party of Genesis, it’s certainly one of the more dynamic stories found in the Bible. How could you go wrong? Apparently, in so many ways. Exodus: Gods and Kings opens big and heavy, with a score and stock of CGI visuals almost as oppressive as the cruel Egyptian rule over the Hebrews. Cut to the pharaoh’s palace, where we see Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, and John Turturro as their father Seti, competing for Most Tanned Male and Best Use of Guyliner 2014. Nobody wins. It’s a casting disaster only made worse by the shallow, stock dialogue and strange pacing that sees Moses leave Egypt, become a shepherd, and get married—all in the time it takes to leave the theater in favor of watching The Prince of Egypt, a far better adaptation, with songs to boot! Adriana, do you concur?
Adriana: Absolutely not! Just kidding. This movie is terrible, for so many reasons. Reason No. 1: awful casting. This is 2014 for cripe’s sake, and Sigourney Weaver is playing the Queen of Egypt. Ridley Scott’s casting choices are more reminiscent of a time when Rex Harrison played the King of Siam or when Laurence Olivier performed Othello in blackface. Whitewashing mainstream movies in order to achieve mass appeal should not happen anymore. OK, to be fair, not all of the actors in the movie were white. Practically every single minor character was played by a person of color, which is frankly a little ridiculous. If you’re going to whitewash a movie, at least have the balls to commit to it all the way. I’m looking at you, Ridley Scott. Reason No. 2 this movie was absolutely awful: the story. I mean, the story of Moses is fairly well known. God talks to Moses in the form of a burning bush and tells him to go free the Hebrew people from the Egyptians. The pharaoh refuses to release them, so God sends the Ten Plagues to punish him. Well, that kind of happened in the movie. Except for the part where God was actually a bratty little kid, and the river of blood happened because a bunch of crocodiles just randomly decided to go on a killing spree.
Jessica: Choosing the kid as God’s mouthpiece is off-putting, but it’s symptomatic of a larger problem. Nobody—the actors or Scott—seems to know what kind of film this is. At times, it appears Scott is going for a more realistic version of the story’s more fantastical elements. The Ten Plagues sequence certainly conveys that. Though shorter than it should be, it was mildly effective to see the gross, pustule-ridden consequences of a locust swarm. But then you have something like the Red Sea scene. Here is the massive, climactic moment we’ve all been waiting for—a big setpiece that should be fantastical. When I walked into that theater, all I was think was, “That sea better part like the flowy hair of a young ’90s heartthrob on the cover of Bop magazine.” Well, it didn’t. The tide lowered, and it was not good. These are only a few of the odd choices at hand here. Is it an action movie? Sometimes. Is it a psychological drama? Bale certainly plays it that way at times. During the second half of the film, there are inklings of a critical and more interesting movie—one that has Moses question his faith in this despotic God. Scott even gives us scenes where Joshua (played by a barely there, bizarrely cast Aaron Paul) sees Moses talking to himself as if he’s crazy. This is all intriguing, but Scott doesn’t do anything with it. Every opportunity for rich character development is diluted by either a montage, boring action, or bad dialogue. Your best bet is to make like the Red Sea and split from the theater as soon as possible.
Adriana: Yeah, I wish I could have done that. Unfortunately, I was stuck. Scott’s interpretation wasn’t the only confusing part of the film. The accents were incredibly strange as well. They ranged from Bale’s flip-flopping British/Eurasian growl to Sigourney Weaver’s straight-up American. Come on. Really? There couldn’t even be around-the-board British accents like in all the other movies that are set somewhere other than America? But the main problem is that when there aren’t man-eating crocodiles around, it’s just really boring. There’s no conviction and barely any emotion. This Moses is a staunch skeptic, disdainful of the overwhelming faith of the Jews. So one has to wonder why he even worked to help free them in the first place. Overall, this movie is an uninspiring mess of CGI graphics and close-up shots of festering boils.
Just stay home and watch The Prince of Egypt. I guarantee you’ll have a better time.
You can find Jessica Peña and Adriana Catanzarite on their own exodus, away from this movie. Comment at email@example.com.