Exodus: Gods and Kings is as epic as one would expect a biblical sword and sandals foray to be from Ridley Scott.
Thankfully, Scott does not try to replicate The Ten Commandments and Christian Bale is nowhere near a Charlton Heston type of portrayal of Moses. What sets this Moses movie apart is, at the end of the day, it is less about the Jewish people forging their freedom after centuries of enslavement.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is more of a story about two brothers on a collision course.
Bale is Moses and Joel Edgerton is Ramses, and as we meet these two “adoptive” brothers, they are readying to go into battle for their father, Seti (John Turturro), the ruler of Egypt. A prophecy, teased in the Exodus: Gods and Kings trailer, states that the brother who is fated to lead will be saved by the brother who will in turn grow to lead.
Ramses worries about this and Moses scoffs at the silliness of the entire thing. Once in battle, yup, Moses saves Ramses and that kind of freaks out the next in line to be pharaoh.
Scott does do a decent job of setting up our story as a sibling battle in the making where one embodies the good in the world (and talks to God) and the other is the definition of evil, greed and gaudiness. When Moses is on state business visiting a Hebrew encampment, he hears about a prophecy about him (from Ben Kingsley’s Nun). We all know the story and it is there that there is a marked shift in the tone of Scott’s film.
It is now brother against brother. Whether it is true or not that Moses is a Hebrew, it doesn’t matter. Just like in today’s world, perception is all that matters. Moses is sent into exile and the long journey to a revolutionary leader begins.
What is curious is how the film is being touted as “from the director of Gladiator.” It certainly shares similarities with that Oscar-winning film. Scott has a powerful lead in Bale, as he did with Crowe in Gladiator. Bale commands the screen and we pull for him to succeed with his righteous endeavor and it’s not just because the filmmaker “told us so.”
We see it, and he doesn’t take all that much screen time to do it. That is a very good thing, especially given how long the Moses story can be.
Bale has one astounding character arc to play with and he executes it effortlessly. Going from son of privilege to chosen child of God who mounts a fight for liberation that is four centuries in the making is no easy task. The man who was Batman has a whole different fight for justice and we see his conflict because in this tale, “innocent” Egyptians suffer and suffer immensely for what's right.
Edgerton handles the role of Ramses with panache. He plays him like a jealous soul. First, he’s jealous of his father’s more favorable opinion of Moses than him. Second, he’s jealous because Moses appears to have God on his side who wields immense power (those plagues!) which infuriates Ramses even more because he's supposed to be a god, but truly is powerless.
Much like a 40-year trek through the desert, Exodus: Gods and Kings drags at times. But let’s be real why so many will see this film -- the scope! And that is never more present in its awesomeness than with the iconic parting of the Red Sea. Scott truly does have his most epic film, and yes, that is saying something. Our Exodus: Gods and Kings review finds that solid casting (even if they’re whiter than they should be) saves an at-times sluggish plot.
But when you factor in the massive scale and how Scott presents the plagues and that parting sea, well then, that is worth the price of admission alone.