With Gladiator Ridley Scott reignited the swords and sandals genre. With Exodus he's pushed it to breaking point.
This is another big budget epic, even if half of the budget went on eyeliner and fake tan. Much has been made of Scott's predominantly white (and apparently racist) casting, but in actuality that's the least of the film's problems.
To be fair, Scott sure knows how to direct an action sequence, in a bombastic film that's big on spectacle. Exodus certainly captures the visceral rush and noise of battle, the camera alternating between dizzying close-ups and sweeping distance shots. Visually the film is beautiful, with its bustling Egyptian towns, grand palaces and, of course, the parting of the Red Sea. The grainy washed-out colours not only obliterate differences in race, but feed into Scott's vision of a realistic telling of this biblical story.
Anyone with a pulse already knows the ending, but Scott attempts to make it his own by playing fast and loose with the source material for a dash of realism. That's why the rivers run red due to some aggressive crocodiles and the Red Sea doesn't part but wipes out the Egyptians in a single tidal wave. At least these scenes are exciting; elsewhere the mumbled dialogue saps the tension out of this melodrama. As with his previous film Kingdom of Heaven, this is a historical film of laborious storytelling that undermines religion.
Mostly, Exodus is the story of two brothers - it's no coincidence the film is dedicated to Scott's recently deceased brother. Yet whilst the narrative focuses on the relationship between the warring Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton), neither of them are sympathetic characters. Bale's Moses is the superior warrior and leader, but it's for this reason alone that his people follow him as he shifts religion far too easily from pharaoh's son to Hebrew outcast. He is not a charismatic figure on screen, instead just a mouthpiece for a child God. Edgerton, meanwhile, is laughable as the camp Ramses: all puffy face, heavy make-up and lacking in screen presence. Even he seems visibly awkward.
The peripheral cast includes the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Aaron Paul, who all offer performances of minimal effort. They seem about as bored as we are.
Watch: Exodus: Gods & Kings is out now.