Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

(Video on Demand, March 2015) Counter-intuitively enough, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings chooses to downplay its biblical material in favor of plausible political intrigues and natural phenomenon.  So the Ten Plagues of Egypt become an overlapping set of environmental disasters, retreating waters from a tsunami makes the Red Sea disappear, and Moses is stuck in an impossible political situations following power-plays by other powerful characters.  It’s an interesting choice (especially when compared against Noah, which seems to maximize the fantasy aspect of its own old-testament inspiration) that tells us much about the way religious subjects can be handled when they’re the focus of a multi-million-dollars effort involving hundreds of people.  Does it work, though?  At times, it certainly does: Scott’s success in period or future pieces has always been in creating a convincing atmosphere, and Exodus certainly has a few wondrous moments during which we entirely believe this recreation of historical Egypt, with its shiny pyramids and sprawling cities.  It’s also hard to go wrong with the intensity of Christian Bale (as Moses) and Joel Edgerton (as Rameses II), alongside such notables as Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley.  Still, that’s not a whole lot to satisfy, especially given the subject matter.  While the Ten Plagues sequence is a highlight, the Red Sea sequence seems a bit lacking as a spectacle, and the choppy narrative strives for complexity while producing either confusion or boredom.  For Scott, it does feel like Kingdom of Heaven all over again, with a lengthy running time hinting at missed opportunities, either at a shorter or longer duration.  A lot of efforts and energies were spent making this film, and it seems like such a shame that it doesn’t rise much above the level of a mildly interesting one.

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