It’s not much of a secret that Ridley Scott has been faltering a bit in recent years. His adaptation of Robin Hood was a laborious affair that felt more like a game of Farmville than a swashbuckler, Prometheus only served to further confound and disappoint die hard fans of Scott’s Alien franchise, and…nobody really knows what the hell The Counselor was all about. So what has Scott decided to do to win back our goodwill? Make yet another version of the biblical tale of Moses and Ramesses of course, and what better way to do that then to cast all white actors in the leads, in a movie about ancient Egypt.
In case you’re one of the five people who don’t already know this story, Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) are two surrogate brothers of sorts raised by Seti (John Turturro), king of Egypt. When Seti passes away, Ramesses takes over the throne and continues to subjugate the Hebrew people, a practice which Moses objects to, which winds up getting him exiled. On his journey, he not only befriends and becomes an icon to the Hebrews, but also comes into contact with God, who has a plan to destroy the Egyptian empire, and free them all.
While Scott’s work as of late has been a fairly boring lot to be sure, there have at least been bits and pieces here and there that have really worked. However, with this absolute disaster, it has become clear that Scott has just plain lost his mind. Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t just a bad movie, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved.
The greatest weakness here is the utter flatness of the relationship between Moses and Ramesses, which easily could have been the film’s biggest strength, especially with such strong actors as Bale and Edgerton. These are two men who have been raised together, and to a great degree love each other, who are pushed against each other from a defining difference in moral beliefs. That premise is so ripe for complexity, but the writing and directing just refuses to let anything more than the bare minimum come out of these two. It basically devolves into “Moses good, Ramesses bad” by the halfway point.
Every actor in here struggles to a massive degree. The only one who gets anything out of it is Bale, who can work with just about any dialogue (sans Terminator Salvation) and pull some kind of nuance out of it. We empathize with everything Moses is going through, and instantly grow to like him through the confident yet conflicted way Bale chooses to go about things, never chewing the scenery too much. The same especially cannot be said for Edgerton, who despite being a tremendous talent, can’t seem to fight his maddening costumes and spray tan to get anything out of Ramesses. He’s a cold, calculating man who can’t quite decide on an accent, and that’s about it. The rest of the A-list cast is hardly even worth mentioning, as they’re really given nothing to do, especially Aaron Paul as Joshua, who deserves so much better after Breaking Bad than spending this entire movie looking around and not saying much of anything.
To acknowledge the elephant in the room, yes, the white washing is excessively distracting. Somehow in the making of this movie nobody thought that it might be just a little offensive to spray tan a bunch of anglo saxons, and then just call it a day. By sheer nature of their appearance, which borders on minstrel show levels for some (looking at you Edgerton), they immediately pull the audience out of the story, especially considering that all of the extras playing slaves are the right race. Needless to say, we haven’t made as much progress on this front in Hollywood as we think that we have.
There isn’t even much delivery on the ‘epic’ factor that Scott is so well known for. Sure, there’s a whole ton of action, with people running around bloodlessly stabbing each other and looking at CGI acts of God, but none of it actually carries any weight. There’s no sense of consequence to this violence, it’s just spectacle to blow the budget on, and it’s not that great looking at that. Sure, the close quarters fighting looks ok, but all of the special effects in here are laughable, especially in the Red Sea sequence that ends the film, with the worst looking computer generated water that I’ve ever seen.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is one of the most shameful efforts to come out of a major studio in quite some time. It’s limp, far too long, and utterly soulless, the focus clearly going towards moving the plot along for set pieces, instead of tapping into why this story means so much to so many people. Beyond that, it’s infuriating that we still allow this sort of casting to go on in Hollywood just for star power, and it shows in the final product just how astray “hiring the best actors for the job” can lead you. I’m done giving Ridley Scott the benefit of the doubt, if he wants my support back, he now has to earn it, because right now, he’s coming off of one of the absolute worst efforts on this side of a decade.