When it comes to Biblical epics, the story of Moses is an exemplar. This kind of seminal tale of faith, family and resistance is truly comprehensive and it’s difficult to find someone who does not at least basically know the core message of Exodus.
Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings failed to hit the mark for me.
Firstly, the characters should be what the piece hinges on but these versions felt empty.
The original biblical figures have been long created and re-created to the point that they are vivid archetypes. It is far from a crime to stray from these in an adaptation as much can be said for subverting expectations. Yet the characters of Gods and Kings fall short in many ways.
From the start, it is far from obvious who is who. Based on prior knowledge, the audience knows who the main players are are but it is still sloppy storytelling to make the other characters and their connections to each other so unclear. The women are all but interchangeable and arrive to scream at each other regarding conflicts that we care nothing about because we are missing context.
The Bible is not generally known for its strong portrayal of women but Gods and Kings manages even less success. In biblical mythology, Moses’ sister Miriam is crucial to his very survival and she is as much a prophet as he is. Miriam is all but absent from the film.
The lack of female characters and meaningful interaction leads to a vacuum as far as any emotional centre is concerned. It is almost impossible to care when the characters do not care about each other either.
The complex emotion that should have been felt at the reveal of Moses’ true heritage feels glossed over – even the talent of Ben Kingsley failed to carry that moment when the audience simply has the plot explained to them.
How does a film with such a fantastic cast decide to underuse the talent so monstrously?
Sigourney Weaver is just sort of there.
I understand that Scott was going for tone and spectacle and undeniably the film looks big, bold and sweeping. Yet the appearance was no more spectacular than the next Hollywood epic.
To create a secular, sceptical take on a century old story is actually a fine idea. Yet making God, or God’s messenger, a petulant child was far less innovative than they seemed to think.
Once God was all but removed, everyone’s motivation became slim or downright ridiculous. The reasoning for a sceptic like Moses to return and battle his brother made no sense in this take on the movie. Making every biblical character unhinged is weak motivation.
The idea that Moses disdained the God of the Jews and the Gods of Egypt was also jarring. Atheism is such a modern concept.
I understand a Biblical story is not going to be historically accurate – the historical truth is already lost in layers of myth – and explaining the miracles of the Bible in a natural, physical way is an idea that I have liked before. However, this film fails to properly explore this.
Even the epic martial scenes felt shoehorned in.
I am willing to accept that the lack of point is the very point of the movie.
Yet it is not quite controversial or fresh enough to be memorable. I was more offended by the script and character interactions than any religious or historical shortcomings. (Although Jewish slaves building the pyramids did make me twitch a little).
It is not camp enough (despite Ramses shirtless, snake-charming scene) to break the monotony. Nor is it dark enough to leave a lasting effect.
There is almost nothing to make it stand out or beg for a second watch.
One word rating: soulless.