Of the directors in the world, the one most suited to making major blockbusters with sweeping special effects is Ridley Scott. He did it before with Alien, Gladiator and Robin Hood, but his new film doesn’t deal with aliens, Romans, or a folklore legend. Instead his new film’s origins are rooted in perhaps the most powerful book on the planet.
The question was this: could Scott excite us visually and enthrall us emotionally with a tale of biblical proportions? The answer is yes and no as Exodus: Gods and Kings is a powerful visual treat yet a damp emotional resonator as the film lacks layers of depth to truly match its source material. To be fair, not many people nowadays would watch DeMille’s 1956 film The Ten Commandments, so Exodus deserved to be made but maybe not the way in which Scott felt it should have been. Considering Exodus is a book from the Bible, it needed to have an almost ethereal quality that would transcend its place as entertainment and make you think profoundly of the significance of the past.
Exodus: Gods and Kings depicts the tale of the Prince of Egypt turned leader of the Hebrews, Moses. Moses’ relationship with his ‘brother’ Rameses is delved into until his exile as a shepherd, to the apparition of a young boy as God telling him his life’s calling, to the ten plagues, the exodus of the Hebrews, the parting of the sea and the Ten Commandments. Even though the book of Exodus was inscribing a past event in the course of history, who would have known that it had all the features to become a blockbusting film full of entertaining thrills.
The primary focus is on the two major figures of the tale: Moses and Rameses. Christian Bale stars as the prince-turned-prophet Moses, and as usual Bale is convincingly effective in yet another lead performance. Moses however isn’t given the magical importance normally attributed to his character; he is more of a bystander in God’s plans. It is as if he is the poster-boy of the Exodus rather than the underlying driving force behind everything. This is summed up by the fact that he doesn’t part the sea, it naturally recedes itself. It would have been better if Moses was given far more power and control over the story and not just be able to talk to God. Bale’s Moses experiences a great physical transformation throughout the film and considering he is Moses, there is not enough psychological change, but nevertheless he still remains the most in-depth character.
Joel Edgerton stars as Rameses II, and my word is he perfect for the role. At first sight he wouldn’t be anyone’s main choice for a pharaoh, but the make-up artists and costume designers did a sterling job with his character. Edgerton has that aura of majesty about him – he simply becomes Rameses and every scene involving him has a powerful grandeur to it. He, unlike Moses, lacks any development and from beginning to end he appears the same person undamaged by his experiences, which is a shame and the only blot to the role. Moses and Rameses are given perhaps too much screen time compared to many other characters that are underplayed. Actors such as John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver hardly get anything to say or do to endear themselves and unfortunately have nothing to contribute to a film that relies solely on its two protagonists.
Filmed in Almeria, Exodus: Gods and Kings may appear extremely magnificent in its visuals but it is essentially just filmed in the desert of Spain, the opposite side of the Mediterranean to where the events took place. Exodus is truly epic in its ambitions. One can see that Scott wanted to emphasise Exodus’ heavenly origins by multiplying grandeur with grandeur and he manages to do so by making it biblical on a visual scale. Gods and Kings is a visual treat and if Scott’s initial target was to prioritise image over emotional resonance, he has done an amazing job because the visuals match the source material on a scale that may even transgress its biblical proportion.
There is a wide variety of locations that are utilised including the lair of the Pharaohs in Memphis, Mount Sinai, the city of Pithom which holds the Hebrew slaves and the Red Sea. There are large crocodiles, thousands of frogs, and a flurry of locusts, a sea of blood, a beast of a hailstorm and a mighty tsunami. This might all be down to the story of Exodus, but boy does it construct a good film as it provides so much entertainment to make this 3,000-year-old tale come to life.
There are more scenes of a spectacular nature than intimate moments, and this marks the film as rather less personal than something with substance. The moments involving Rameses and Moses are the scenes that electrify because you can feel the power of both characters, but these moments are sporadic as they are hardly together once Moses is sent into exile. The moments that do manage to heighten the emotional depth of the film is the conflict Moses feels within himself and this most of the time involves God in the form of a young boy.
If the film was perhaps 30 minutes longer, the number of scenes that could be weaved into Gods and Kings emphasising the significance of what the story of Exodus entails would make the film not just visually impressive but also emotionally stirring. Unlike 2014’s biblical epic Noah, Exodus perhaps lacks despondent emotion and seems too nice a film. Exodus: Gods and Kings is a spectacle in every sense of the word, even the title of the film suffers from grandeur, therefore it should have been foreseen that, no matter how many individual intimate moments were incorporated, it was always going to be suppressed by the lavish depiction of this world.
Exodus: Gods and Kings should be more emotionally resonating considering its biblical source material, but what it lacks in the storytelling department, it makes up for it with its visually insatiable entertainment.