Start with an epic battle and a respected general leading the charge for the king. The battle ends with a great victory. We quickly learn that the general is like a brother to the spoiled prince, and like a son to the king.The king tells the general that his own son is not fit to rule, and it would’ve been better if the general were his son so that he might rule. The king dies and the spoiled prince becomes the new king.
If you think this sounds like Gladiator, you’d be correct. But it also describes the first 30 minutes of Exodus: Gods and Kings.
In some ways, you could call Exodus: Gods and Kings a Gladiator sequel. And as many sequels tend to go, they’re not as good as the original.
There are so many parallels between these two films, it’s a little grating. The plot structure, the characters, the action. Even when Moses goes back to Egypt to free his people, we see him training the Hebrews to be badass soldiers, much like Maximus does with the slaves in Gladiator.
Let’s face it, Joaquin Phoenix’s as Commodus was absolutely brilliant. He created a creepy, yet believable, character – a man never loved by his father, always striving to impress, always begging for his father to be proud of him. You understand Commodus’ motivations even if you hate him. And Phoenix’s acting is just inspiring. He is seriously an amazing actor.
Maximus is a genuinely humble character. He is a talented warrior and general, and you really root for him. He is a good person with good intentions, but who is wronged and wants revenge. He loves his family, he’s intelligent and he’s more “common”. You really want him to see justice.
Ramses and Moses are only poor echoes of these characters.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of Moses does not ring true. The character development was stale and contrived. I found myself rooting for Ramses rather than Moses at a few points during the film. Moses is arrogant and while the movie seems to want to picture him as wise, he comes across as anything but wise. He’s a blundering idiot who can wield a sword, leading a group of very gullible Hebrews. I also feel like Christian Bale was miscast for this role. While I think he is a good actor, he just doesn’t embody a believable Moses character, even with the new interpretation, that the audience can root for or understand. Also, he just looks like an odd duck. He doesn’t look like a Hebrew OR an Egyptian realistically, or as they are visually portrayed in the film.
On the other hand, Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of Ramses is good. I feel like Ramses is the only character with which the audience can really connect. He’s spoiled, yes, and he’s not a very good pharaoh. He does evil things in the name of power. But he seems to be a genuinely good husband and father. Nonetheless, he is no Commodus.
And even while I appreciate the complicating of the “bad guys”, again the Gladiator parallels distract and really take away from the movie. For example, Ramses at one point says to his young son while he sleeps: “You sleep well because you are loved. I never slept so well.” Seriously? Can the parallels be any more obvious?
Now, I must say there are some aspects of the film that are truly spectacular.
The plagues are visually stunning.The final plague really makes you feel for the “bad guys.” The envisioning of how the Nile turns to blood is really very creative. The “parting” of the Red Sea is also great (though the ensuing battle afterwards was pretty ridiculous). The special effects are fantastic, the set is grand, the costumes are beautiful and realistic.
I’m not going to go into detail about its Biblical inaccuracies, as I think new (but well-thought) interpretations are always welcome. I really enjoyed, for example, Aronofsky’s Noah.
However, I will say that I was extremely disappointed that one of my favourite scenes in the Bible about Moses is non-existent (see Exodus 7:10).
All in all, it wasn’t a horrible movie. The main problem with this film is, as Eli Glasner states in the video link below, is “the mix of awe and authenticity.” By trying to focus on two different things, it falls short and doesn’t deliver on either points.
Review on CBC by Eli Glasner – “It’s the Bible bigger and blander.” Glasner has a more critical view of the film.
Review on Christianity Today – “Rather than bashing another not-perfectly-biblical Bible movie, what if we praised its beauty?” A more positive spin on the film.
I’d give the movie 2.5 out of 5.
Now go re-watch Gladiator!