I try to leave personal anecdotes and stories out of my reviews, in large part because I’m a very boring person and you don’t want to read about me, but I have a story that kind of relates to Exodus: Gods and Kings, so you’ll have to indulge me for a bit. In the third grade, I did a research project on bald eagles. It was a good project and I did well on it. In the sixth grade, at a different school, we had to research an animal. So, I picked the bald eagle, since I had already done it and figured that’d get me an easy mark. However, upon completion, I was told that most of what I had done wouldn’t count, since I was “plagiarizing” from myself. I would have to pick another animal and start over.
The point of this story is this: what makes it okay for a big-time Hollywood director to basically just take a previous film and re-do, albeit with some slight differences? I was punished for it in elementary school, but here we have Ridley Scott basically taking Gladiator and repurposing it into a biblical epic. Shouldn’t we be taking it away from him and making him create something unique? Or is the school system really that out of touch from reality?
I’m mostly being facetious, but Exodus: Gods and Kings does feel just like Gladiator, but with Moses instead of … whatever Gladiator‘s leading character’s name was (editor’s note: Maximus), and that God plays a significantly bigger role. Outside of that, and perhaps a lot more special effects — the ten plagues need to be brought to us with the best computer effects that we can muster, after all — it’s basically Gladiator, but worse, and Gladiator wasn’t anything special to begin with.
Yes, that’s the angle from which I’m approaching Exodus. What do you want from me? Do you want me to waste time about how it’s awful that a movie set in biblical times features more or less an all-white cast? Lots of critics are going to take that angle, and I’d rather take the angle that speaks to unoriginality in Hollywood, which is purely a “movie thing,” compared to the potential racism that comes from the skin color of the cast, which is more political.
Right. The movie. It’s about Moses (Christian Bale) riding around on horses and trying to stop the villain, Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton). God appears to Moses in the form of some random kid, there are a bunch of great CGI scenes, and I suppose one could consider there to be a plot linking them together, but mostly it’s just there to get us from special effects to more special effects. Oh, and it kind of tells that one story about Moses leading people and parting the sea and stuff, but it’s not a direct retelling because, well, there are a bunch of liberties taken that’ll probably upset all of the religious groups involved.
All of this takes almost two and a half hours to tell, even though there isn’t really a lot to the plot, and a lot of the film really doesn’t need to be there. Despite having four credited screenwriters and a veteran director, Exodus is really bloated and underplotted. Its characters are underdeveloped, too, essentially fitting into “good” and “bad” and nothing much more.
Christian Bale is a great actor who can’t do much to make us care about Moses. Moses! You know, the inspirational figure? Yeah, he’s boring and uninteresting. This is a movie that should lead us to feel inspired, but instead it’s just dull. He’s surrounded by actors like Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, and Ben Kingsley, and also lesser actors like Joel Edgerton and Aaron Paul. Nobody is good. Nobody is terribly bad, either, but it’s like they’re all just going through the motions.
Exodus: Gods and Kings will fall into the middle tier of 2014 biblical movies, but in all honesty, with its cast and filmmakers, should have been better. It might turn out like Kingdom of Heaven, where a director’s cut will add 40 more minutes and yet somehow fix all of its issues, although I’m not holding my breath. More story isn’t Exodus‘ problem; it’s the complete lack of anything interesting or inspirational that does that. It exists so Ridley Scott can do CGI-heavy scenes from his favorite parts of the story, all while not straining too much by basically retrofitting Gladiator into the story of Moses.