There is a clue in the title to this that it isn’t going to be all that great – ‘Exodus’ sounds grand, epic and serious. ‘Exodus : Gods and Kings’ sounds shit, like they want to make it clear they are using the story from the Old Testament but ‘not really’, or ‘we’re doing our own thing with it’, well, what’s the point then? The film is about the life of Moses (Christian Bale) in ancient Egypt up until the moment of the Exodus itself, opening with his time as the Pharaoh’s right hand man and here the man in charge actually prefers him to his real son, Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton), I don’t remember this from the old sermons I once heard (before I burned the church down) but OK.
Visually it’s very nice with wonderful costumes, sets and scenes of warfare and carnage which director Ridley Scott is no stranger to, but it suffers from the basic problem of just plodding on and running out of steam very quickly. ‘Noah‘ had an artistry to it and delivered things that were unexpected, and even the melodrama with the characters worked on some levels, here though it is very much a case of OK now this plague will arrive, and then the next one and then … and so on, all leading to a graphically impressive crossing of the Red Sea, which is crowned off by an example of complete and utter ridiculousness that is frankly embarrassing for Scott, where we witness central characters surviving being smacked in the head by A TIDAL WAVE right in the middle of the Sea. Hmm. There is also a somewhat confused morality within the screenplay – God’s wrath seems to inflict equal suffering on Hebrew and Egyptian alike, for example. In fact, it’s really difficult to discern what the point in making the film was.
As is always the case for biblical films there have been numerous controversies surrounding the story and production, ultimately though it simply isn’t good enough to care that much about, though criticisms about the ethnicity of all the actors (complaint being that all the leads are white) are difficult to allay when, as you see above, the actors with very black skin are clearly shown to be slaves. Is this inaccurate though? As you travel south from the Med through to the tropics the skin colour of the people naturally darkens (as presumably it still would have done in antiquity, although interestingly the early dynasties arose not too long after the time the Sahara is estimated to have become a desert in 3500 BC, after a shift in the Earth’s orbit), would it make sense for the Egyptians to trade for slaves around their southern borders? Do we even know what the colour of the ancient Egyptians’ skin was? Modern day North Africa is genetically dominated by the legacy of Islamic conquest and Mediterranean trade, and Egypt has always been at the confluence of three continents so I think it’s safe to say that it is difficult to know for sure, and Bale and Edgerton are at least suitably sunned so I’m not convinced it’s fair criticism.
There is an interesting moment when Christian Bale rides forth on horseback with his men flanking him on either side, and then he draws his sword ready for battle. Or at least, he tries to, it actually gets stuck briefly and it’s perhaps telling they decided to keep the take – it is precisely what you could imagine happening if you were suddenly asked to film a climatic scene as ‘leader’, or indeed do it in real life for some reason, that or falling off your horse after tugging too hard, so in a way it’s nice it’s in there. Support from Ben Kingsley, María Valverde, and Sigourney Weaver – even though she only has about two lines.