Just to get it out there: I was overly disappointed with Exodus: Gods and Kings. At times, too much spectacle floods the scene, and the drama is desert dry in others. Putting the “gyp” in Egypt, this film is swindled and dwindled at every corner from the original power of the familiar, classic story. Go ahead and etch in another spot in the “Christian / biblical movies that didn’t do so hot in 2014” category (alongside Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Pure Flix’s God’s Not Dead) and set this film in that spot.
The acting in this film is so detrimentally inconsistent to what I think the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. Christian Bale’s Moses is artistically conflicted on occasion but comes off more as a one-dimensional war hero on a short leash than as a humble, soft-spoken leader – a Moses whose heart is practically as hard as Pharaoh’s. Joel Edgerton as Ramses seems distant and awkwardly misplaced in the role; this is strangely so because Ramses is actually depicted as a loving husband and father in contrast to Moses’s exiled and almost brutal aura. Ben Kinglsey, however briefly, shines as the empathetic Nun when he reveals Moses’s true nature as an Israelite. John Turturro’s portrayal of Seti, also however brief, is heartwarming when he tells Moses that he trusts him more than his real son Ramses to lead the Egyptian people. Other performances – like Sigourney Weaver’s Tuya (Seti’s wife and Ramses’s mother) and Aaron Paul as Promised Land successor Joshua – were so shortchanged that I can’t really give a critique on them.
I’m not going to pinpoint every single mark that Exodus: Gods and Kings misses within its own story; however, I will point out the ones that mattered most to me. What I didn’t like most was the lack of the human drama in the story. I expected more gravitas from the familial conflicts. Things looked interestingly promising in the beginning of the film, when the once unified brothers are first divided by the fulfillment of a certain prophecy (one of the more engaging scenes of the film), but the drama unfortunately slows when Seti dies after hearing of the prophecy’s fulfillment on his deathbed. There’s another engaging scene shortly after Ramses is named Pharaoh in which Moses saves his sister from losing her arm for keeping his identity secret, but that wraps it up.
The plagues, as epically spectacular as they appear, are also cheated from their power – not because they were debunked by Ramses’s own magicians and experts (that’s actually biblical), but because they just didn’t get enough screen time. So much effort went into making the plagues – from the bloody Nile to the death of the firstborn – look aesthetically beautiful, which they really do. But it moves so fast that the audience has no time to catch up and relish in the happenings. Thankfully, the “parting” of the Red Sea has its moment of glory, but still it pales in comparison to what it could have been.
Coming out of the theater, I was faced with the choice of believing in two different Moseses (or Mosi, to be scientifically correct). On one hand, I had the bravely and bodaciously charismatic leader of God’s people who was not beyond expressing his anger toward God and His plans whenever his own barbaric plans didn’t work. And that image in itself gives a decent enough message: that sometimes our own plans don’t work and that God will pick up our slack if we’re trying to do something for him. But that’s not a complete image, like the one found in the biblical account of this archetypal hero. In the true account, we see a humble servant who, although initially feared God as overpoweringly different and Other, later came to know God within the blessed context of a relationship. That’s the kind of Moses for which we should ready ourselves.