Ridley Scott returns to swords and sandals with Exodus, a Biblical epic of the grandest proportions. Much like Kingdom of Heaven (2005) his previous attempt to rekindle the grandeur and emotional punch of his classic Gladiator (2000), Exodus falls short against his perfect Roman tale, but what it does do is provide a surprisingly fun, if slightly lengthy take on the story of Moses.
Raised as brothers, Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are inseparable, with the former sworn to protect and advise the latter as he ascends to the thrown to rule over Egypt. When the truth behind Moses’s Hebrew origin is uncovered he is cast aside by his friend, exiled and expected to die. Unknowingly however Ramses has set in motion Moses’s turn to religion and eventual crusade against his tyrannical rule over the Hebrew slaves.
As Ridley Scott does so well, the scale and setting of the film is impressively realised. Egypt has rarely looked so good on film. Gone are the now largely dated sets of Cecil B. DeMille’s 10 Commandments, and in is a beautifully created version of the Egyptian cities, pyramids and statues. The production values are high here throughout, easily drawing you into the historical setting.
Joel Edgerton as Ramses is excellent – bold, confident and dangerous, whilst sympathetic and empathetic, in many ways he is an effective fold to Bale’s oh so serious Moses. Beyond these two characters however is where the film lacks. Ben Kingsley’s Nun provides some exposition, and not much beyond, and Aaron Paul’s Joshua mostly stares whilst Moses “talks to God” (whilst rocking a pretty cool beard, I should add). Other than Ramses and Moses, there are very few characters to really care about or engage with, meaning when the stakes begin to rise it’s difficult to really care about the outcome beyond the main two players, in spite of the generally serviceable performances.
It would seem however that someone forgot to tell Sigourney Weaver that her character isn’t meant to be American as she seems to be putting in literally zero effort to conform with the accents taken up by the rest of the cast.
Being a film based on Biblical tales, it does of course deal with “miraculous events”. Whereas 2014’s Noah presented it’s “miraculous events” as being just that – miracles- Exodus takes a more matter fact approach to it’s Biblical trappings, much to its benefit. Where Noah had (just ridiculous) talking rock angels undercutting the tone of the film, Exodus chooses to display the 10 Plagues and even the parting of the Red Sea with scientific reasoning. Frankly, this simply makes it much more believable than its Biblical brethren Noah. As for God, he is represented by a small child (or at least his messenger is), seen only by Moses. Whether this means he was in fact schizophrenic as Bale has suggested, or that he is in fact chosen by God is of course open to interpretation.
Though Exodus is at times uneven, and perhaps over long, it features two great showings from its leads, and is simply a great deal of fun. If you go expecting a close Biblical adaptation, you’re sure to be disappointed, but for those like myself who are in it for the epic scale, swords and sandals action, there is a lot to like.
The “parting” of the Red Sea is suitably spectacular, and the scale of the film at large is impressive, but a lack of character development beyond the two leads and a slightly underwhelming payoff to Ramses’s story in particular hold Exodus back. Certainly worthy of a watch however – there’s fun to be had in ancient Egypt if not taken too seriously.
Rating (out of 5):