Leave aside learned theological and historical discussions, but any assessment of the summer 3D epic that doesn't have hobbits in it cannot avoid a few observations about the source text -- the second book of what Christians call the Old Testament and Jews call the Torah.
They make no mention, for example, of Moses' wading through battlefield gore in the army of Pharaoh Seti I; the prophecy about his saving Seti's son, Ramses II, in battle likewise goes unremarked. Moses' passage from childhood to fugitive (after killing an Egyptian bully) occupies five verses.
So Exodus: Gods and Kings is outrageous hokum on many levels -- including, as it seems to this lay observer, the religious ones. The film's Moses (a gym-toned Christian Bale) is a reluctant, puzzled and often pissed-off observer of God's interventions, rather than the rod-wielding minister of them. And if Scott was keen to avoid the disembodied Darth Vader voice that Cecil B. DeMille employed to speak to Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments in 1956, it remains puzzling that he would incarnate God as a slightly demonic British choirboy with a speech impediment.
Stranger still, it seems odd for the Almighty to get Moses to chisel those commandments himself and ask him to approve them before schlepping them down Mt Sinai to the waiting multitudes.
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Enough said. The respect a sword-and-sandals epic accords the foundation story of two religions matters not one bit. This is a film of form, not content, even if the opulent grandeur of Memphis and Abu Simbel looks pretty phoney. Tilting, swooping and soaring, the cameras of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski create dizzying spectacles, mostly made in digital post-production.
Telling the story of Moses' delivery of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the film stops before they get to the promised land they call Canaan (plenty of room for a sequel, then). Moses resists for as long as he can his destiny, which is to demand from his adoptive brother, Ramses (Joel Edgerton), that he "let my people go".
The consequences of Ramses' intransigence, the Ten Plagues of Egypt, are spectacular -- and Scott makes sure they look that way, even chucking in an extra one (man-eating crocodiles) by way of explaining why the river turned to blood -- but they become almost nauseatingly over-the-top. By contrast, the parting of the Red Sea, which cuts jarringly between riverside and seaside locations, is less impressive than DeMille's.
But it's all such damn good fun, that you can forgive some of the horrendously clunky lines. Don't look here for complicated or even interesting characters (Ben Mendelsohn as a camp sybarite of a provincial governor with his hand in the till is the best of the bunch; Sigourney Weaver is insultingly underused and Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul laughable). Ditto plausible relationships or even a coherent story arc. The film exists as a platform for eye-popping visuals and if you load yourself up with popcorn and, if possible, see it in 3D, it delivers. If you want more, it might pay to read the book.
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Ridley Scott
Running time: 150 mins
Rating: M (violence)
Verdict: So big, they had to add an extra plague
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