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Movie Review: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Tries to Bring New Life to the Sacred Story, But Fails at Too Much

By Bob Garver

Dec. 16, 2014. The Exodus story has been depicted onscreen many times before, most notably in “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), though there are plenty of others. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” promises to be one of the more exciting versions, with blockbuster director Ridley Scott in charge and millions of dollars of special effects to play with. The question that looms over the film is: what will we see here that we haven’t seen before?

imgresThe story pretty much has to be the same one we’ve seen before, at least when it comes to the high points. Moses (Christian Bale) is a general in the Egyptian army, having been raised by the royal family as a brother of sorts to prince Ramses (Joel Edgerton). It is revealed that Moses is in fact of Hebrew descent, a heritage that gets him banished. Moses comes to embrace his Hebrew identity, and is told by God that he is to lead all the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt.

The prospect of losing 400,000 slaves does not sit well with Ramses, who is now Pharaoh. Simple demands and minor rebellions by Moses do not yield results, so God punishes all of Egypt with ten plagues to force Ramses to give in. A defeated Ramses dismisses Moses and the slaves, but then decides to take his army and pursue them out of need for revenge. Only a miracle can save Moses and the Hebrews, fortunately this is a story filled with miracles.

So what does the film do that is unique? Perhaps the thing that stands out most is the depiction of God as a boy of about ten. He first appears next to the famed burning bush, which itself is scant and unimpressive in this film. I have to say, I don’t care for this creative decision. I think the idea here is to portray God as having a childlike innocence, but He comes off looking like a spoiled brat. All I could think about during these scenes was comparisons to the child with God-like powers from that one episode of “The Twilight Zone.” God is more intriguing and impactful in this story when He’s just a disembodied voice coming out of a magnificent burning bush.

The most powerful part of the film is the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The film comes up with an interesting explanation for the transformation o the waters of the Nile into blood, but the effect is lost because of poorly-rendered GGI animals. The same can be said for the other animal plagues (and I’m sorry, but how does a person wake up to find that they’re covered in frogs? One frog in my room, much less on me, and I’m awake and freaked out). But the multitude of skin boils are appropriately disgusting and the quiet depiction of the final and deadliest plague, while  bit rampant, is graceful, haunting way to handle such devastation.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” tries to bring new life to the sacred story, but it fails at too much. The scenery is gaudy, the hair and makeup are too clever for their own good, and the computerized special effects are terrible (were the artists proud of their work?). Plus, I feel that the film doesn’t do enough to make us sympathize with Moses and the Hebrew slaves. We do see them suffer, but not on the level that we see the Egyptians suffering during the plagues. Simple text saying that they’ve been slaves for 400 years doesn’t do it for me. The film serves as a good jumping-off point for a discussion about its subject matter, but it does not achieve the greatness one associates with its epic journey.

Two stars out of five.