A familiar trap that Hollywood blockbusters often fall into is how good something can look on paper. Ensemble cast, renowned and visionary director, a familiar story that the audience can surely relate to, Exodus: Gods and Kings ticks every box. Sadly, it also falls drastically short in utilising its talent and instead settles for a disaster film that is, in every sense of the word, a disaster.
Ridley Scott’s film relentlessly bashes the eyes and ears of the audience with computer-generated destruction. Every set-piece becomes a “go big or go home” statement that continues for the duration of the 150 minute tale. Almost everyone is familiar with the age-old story of Moses getting kicked to the dirt only to rise up against the Pharaoh Ramses with intention of leading the Hebrew slaves to freedom. In the modern age of explosions, deafening noises and 3-D rendering, we do not just get a retelling of the story but an assault on the senses and a burning bush full of superficial slaves that play second fiddle to the extravagant set pieces.
There are four writers credited to this film including Steve Zaillian, who co-wrote the American reboot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). But too many cooks may have indeed spoiled the broth. The life of Moses is explored from start to finish but feels rushed and under-developed. Christian Bale plays the saviour who drifted down the River Nile in a very quiet and modest fashion, proving himself a convincing lead yet again. The power-hungry Ramses is played by Joel Edgerton, who looks great with his golden costumes, shiny bald head and intense eye makeup, but he plays the role too safely for the personality that he portrays in the film. Rounding off the promising cast are Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, the toxic mother of Ramses; Aaron Paul as the loyal follower of Moses; and the increasingly familiar blockbuster presences that are Ben Mendelsohn and Ben Kingsley. The problem with these appearances is that they are so small and underwritten that they unfortunately have very little to do.
The story of Moses would be incomplete without the arrival of the various punishments brought forth from God, here represented in the form of a young British boy called Malak (Isaac Andrews). We all know about the various forms of wildlife that fall from the sky as God exacts vengeance against the Pharaoh but what was not expected was just how many computer-generated frogs could fit onscreen. These plagues do look good and they are fun and silly, right up to the point where quantity undermines quality. Moments like this are a reminder of how detached the effects feel from the people they are supposed to affect. Do not hold your breath waiting for the parting of the Red Sea; an event that should be unmissable is little more than someone pulling the plug out of a drain. To give the spectacle some credit, however, the scene involving the tenth and final plague does pack an emotional punch, heightened by a darkened city and a striking use of deafening silence, the content of the scene is heartbreaking and perfectly executed.
Ridley Scott has had a lengthy and impressive career behind the lens but his latest effort feels flat, uninspired and impersonal. The film simply does not possess the rugged simplicity and emotional punch of Gladiator (2000) or the pessimistic realism of Blade Runner (1992). Exodus appears to be nothing more than an expensive re-enactment.