This is not your daddy’s Ten Commandments.
Questionable casting choices aside, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a powerful take on the human toll of the original story of The Exodus. This is not the romantic portrayal that you may remember from the legendary Charlton Heston version, The Ten Commandments; this is a combination of the story from the Bible and the vision of Ridley Scott. This movie will, and in time has, gotten very mixed reviews based on its comparison to the Bible, as any movie that tries to tackle something so legendary knows it is in for–something so legendary that it has a place in the subconscious of an entire world.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first; this movie cannot be compared to the recent semi-Bible based movie Noah. Exodus: Gods and Kings sticks mostly to the Biblical tale, without the fantasy/sci-fi elements. Now, having said that, I am going to try to write this review without speaking about the religious aspects–at least as well as I am able. (If you’re looking for a review of this movie as it compares to the original story of Exodus in the Bible, I’ve written another post here, on my personal site. The views expressed there are mine and mine alone, and do not reflect the views of Guardians of Geek or its writers and staff.)
The first thing you’ll notice, right out of the gate, is the massive scale of this film. The art and effects on display when viewing the pits of Pithon, the architecture of Memphis and then Ramses, the hundreds of thousands of slaves, will leave you shivering. Whether you shiver in a feeling of empathy for the slaves or shiver merely for the scale is left up to the viewer.
The movie struggles to break new ground, though when dealing with a story that is over 3000 years old it is easy to see why… But all of that is quickly forgotten as the plagues begin. As the first plague is displayed, the movie truly separates itself from the film you remember from your childhood; the plagues may be the same, but their scope and vision is expanded. The plagues in this film are not for the squeamish, and you may find yourself a little uncomfortable as you watch them unfold in all of their terrible glory. While it is well into the movie, it is as the Nile river turns to blood that you realize what you have signed up for by buying a ticket–the first of the plagues sets the tone for what is coming.
Despite the incredible detail and effects put into the plagues, they are not what the movie is about. The movie is about the people, both Hebrew and Egyptian, that were living through this time–and it is a fairly heartless person that does not feel for the suffering on display. That being said, it is not “suffering porn”, or whatever you would like to call it- it is merely a movie about people. Someone might say that the scope of the film, almost trying to capture the hopes and dreams of 600,000 slaves as well as every person in the nation that rules over them, deadens the impact of the emotional displays. I do not agree with this, I felt for everyone in this film (admittedly to varying degrees). I will admit that it is more difficult to feel empathy for the suffering of a person who wears nothing but plate gold and who presides over the suffering of 600,000 people… But even then, no one deserves what he got (in my opinion).
The two main characters in this film, Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton), are surprisingly deep given the history of Hollywood’s portrayal of stories like this. Ramses is not simply some power mad Pharaoh threatened by Moses, he is also a father and a husband. Moses is not just the savior of a people, he is a slave, a brother, a husband, a father and a son. He is a man laid low by the guilt of discovering that he presided over the suffering of his own people and did nothing. That being said, and I am quoting from the movie here, “I am not the only one who did nothing to save their people.”
The reason this movie is named “Exodus” instead of “The Ten Commandments” is that the aforementioned stone tablets are in no way central to the story Scott was telling. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons that much has been said about the unsatisfying nature of the ending; the nature is only unsatisfying if you are going into this movie with the expectation that you are watching another version of The Ten Commandments. Certainly, the story that was meant to be told is told, and the ending takes nothing away from it.
I am trying to give a general review; if it was completely my personal opinion I would give it a very high score, but metacritic has reminded me on this day that I am not in the majority. When I checked prior to the writing of this review, Exodus was sitting in the mid 50’s, and I think personally that it deserves much better than that. The human element, the appearance of suffering without it’s glorification and the appearance of the plagues without being completely overdone, I think speaks well for this movie.