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Barbed Wire: Ten Plagues Upon ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

Barbed Wire: Ten Plagues Upon 'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

Exodus: Gods and Kings” has attracted a lot of controversy for its whitewashing of ancient Egypt, but it looks like that’s the least of the film’s problems. The first reviews were mixed between mildly entertained and largely bored by Scott’s overblown take on a familiar story, but the film’s detractors are getting louder, knocking the film’s comical portentousness, its underdeveloped supporting players, Christian Bale’s brooding Moses, and Joel Edgerton’s campiness. The film’s retrograde qualities extend beyond whitewashing, too, with Eric Henderson of Slant noting that one of Ramses’ evil henchmen is clearly coded as gay. Finally, more than a few critics have remarked that despite clear pandering to white audiences, it seems like a movie that was made for no one, too dull to be a crowd-pleaser and too goofy to work as a prestige film.

More thoughts from the web:

Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly

God apparently loves CGI, which he uses to summon the familiar 10 plagues of Egypt and part the Red Sea to allow the Hebrews to escape. But the effects in Exodus are mostly unconvincing, without the grandeur that the supreme creator should be able to conjure up. Read more.

David Ehrlich, Time Out New York

Exodus, more so than any other episode of the Old Testament, is a story that exists in order to be retold. While most of the major milestones on the Jewish calendar are observed via one-way conversation with God, only on Passover do we so explicitly recite history to each other. By that logic, I can’t fault Ridley Scott for wanting to stage a version of this saga, just as I can’t ignore the fact that my dad tells the same tale every spring, but much more engagingly, in half the time and drunk on Manischewitz. Read more.

Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine

Already a trending topic is Scott’s own defense in the pages of Variety for casting the likes of Bale, Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, and baby blue-eyed Aaron Paul as residents within life’s cradle, instead of “Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.” That there’s some level of sad truth in Scott’s explanation that you simply can’t fund a nine-figure blockbuster-elect without some passive ethnic cleansing doesn’t excuse his practice. Especially not when he indulges in so many of the other lamentably traditional customs of the genre (e.g. egregiously coding one of Ramses’s devious henchman as gay for mere efficiency). Read more.

Josh Larsen, Larsen On Film

Considering Christian Bale outbroods his own Bruce Wayne as Moses, director Ridley Scott indulges in a stultifying amount of CGI “scope” and the film overall has a dim color palette that’s only worsened by 3D, we should be thankful for the occasional bursts of silliness we get. Among these is a sequence in which a pile of crocodiles go berserk, kicking off the plagues by turning the Nile into “Lake Placid.” Similarly entertaining is Joel Edgerton’s performance as Rhamses. Pouty, bald and heavy on the eyeliner, he’s Pharaoh by way of Boy George. Read more.

Will Leitch, The Concourse/Deadspin

I’m not sure who ever could have thought that “Exodus: Gods and Kings” was a good idea. Putting aside—only for a moment—the much-discussed “whitewashing” of the cast, the movie seems almost specifically designed to appeal to absolutely no one. It’s a Bible story, but it paints Old Testament God as an angry, petulant child willing to murder hundreds of thousands of people because he’s impatient and bored. It’s an action movie that runs 150 minutes and whose sporadic “action” scenes are so inanely computer-generated that the moments involving humans talking to each other feel more like cut-scenes from a video game. It’s a grand-scale epic blown up to ridiculous size, but it never once feels awesome or expansive. In all honesty, it mostly struck me as an incredibly efficient and instantaneous way to set fire to $140 million. Perhaps Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox are re-enacting “Brewster’s Millions?” Read more.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News

Ironically, only in its casting does “Exodus” recall Old Hollywood, a time when John Wayne could play Genghis Khan, Marlon Brando could be Emiliano Zapata and Charlton Heston could play anyone. Bale is an extraordinary actor, but the guttural Batman-in-the-wilderness bit he uses here feels like a student so unprepared for a test that he just wings it. There are times when Moses smirks at his adversaries, as if Bale also can’t see why he’s there. Read more.

Todd VanDerWerff, Vox

And yet, for all the committee work, it’s not even a pandering crowdpleaser. This is a movie about Moses (played here by Christian Bale), where Moses never once gets to break out the phrase “Let my people go.” (The closest the film gets is when Moses paints something on the side of a horse about reopening negotiations with the Pharaoh. I wish I was kidding about this.) That’s like going to a Skynrd concert and not getting to hear “Free Bird.” Read more.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club

These all get trampled by Scott’s goofy, literalist rationalism, which tries to invent a scientific explanation for everything—the Red Sea parts because of a tidal wave, the Plague Of Boils is caused by disease spread during the Plague Of Flies—while preserving a sense of Sunday school spectacle, and ends up working as neither. (Scott and his screenwriters more or less give up when it comes to the Plague On The First Born.) At least DeMille knew how to put on a show; the best this offers are a few bursts of Old Testament camp, like the repeated scenes of Joshua spying on Moses from behind a rock or the sequence where Edgerton struggles to emote grief while a silicone baby prop flops around in his arms. Read more.

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