ExoduscoverGrade: C+
Entire family: No
2014, 150 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Bonus features: C-/D
Trailer/Amazon link

Last year two modernized biblical blockbusters came to the big screen: Noah, starring Russell Crowe in the title role, and Exodus: Gods and Kings, with Christian Bale playing Moses. Both films took so many liberties with the Old Testament version that if a bell rang every time they veered off-course, we’d all be deaf. But at least there are no fantastic rock monsters in Exodus, the superior of the two.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is Ridley Scott’s attempt to retell the story of Moses and the Israelites’ flight from Egypt, but it’s significantly different from Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, which was closer to King James.

Exodusscreen1De Mille made an epic. Scott, like Noah director Darren Aronofsky, made an action movie. There’s no wandering the desert with staff and sandals in Exodus. Scott’s Moses rides a horse across the Red Sea narrows and the wilderness to Midian, with a sword in his bedroll. This Moses wears a breastplate and fights assassins, and when the time finally comes for him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites to freedom, there’s more talk of rebellion than there is of a “promised land.” He teaches the Israelites to fire bows and arrows and leads them on commando raids. This Moses is more military leader than prophet, and there’s not a single “And the Lord says” to be found here. “They’re Egyptians,” Moses tells Ramesses, “they should have the same rights, they should be paid.”

Much of the language is contemporary, with liberal use of contractions—something my 17-year-old son assures me will go a long way toward appealing to the younger generation. So you have the Pharaoh saying things like, “Everybody but the Viceroy, OUT!” and another ancient Egyptian saying, “I didn’t say exiled. I said DEAD.” In Midian, Moses says, “Your daughters invited me here for food. They didn’t tell me there was going to be an interrogation”—a word that didn’t exist until the late 14th century.

Maybe that’s nit-picking, since Scott manages to create a visually interesting ancient world. He also uses today’s superior technology to wow us when God sends 10 plagues to smite the Egyptians—even though the Nile turns blood red [SPOILER ALERT] because of a giant crocodile that attacks everyone like an ancient Jaws. And later, when the Red Sea rushes over the Egyptians, we briefly see sharks swirling around them in a feeding frenzy. All that too will probably go a long way toward appealing to a new generation of teens and ‘tweens who’ve grown up playing action-filled video games.  

Exodusscreen2Still, as often happens with action movies, what’s sacrificed is dramatic build-up, and Scott takes plenty of shortcuts in this area. There’s not much depiction of slavery, for example, so there’s no real sense of release and relief when the Israelites are finally let go. And Moses’ own backstory takes a backseat to the action. While De Mille sent Moses off to Ethiopia and then had him return a conquering hero ready to serve his Pharaoh (and further ingratiate him over the Pharaoh’s own son), Scott takes the opposite approach. We follow Moses into battle and watch him fight, while upon his return the sibling politics are slighter. In fact, if you aren’t familiar with the story, it might be tough at first to figure out that Moses is the equivalent of an adopted son. Later it’s revealed how he came to be in that situation, but the order of information makes us care less about Moses or understand how conflicted he is between love of his adopted people and his hereditary people. Maybe that’s because in Exodus: Gods and Kings, we really don’t understand the depth of Moses’ connection to the slaves. That’s glossed over.

I’m not sure I even want to talk about God. But as someone who still likes the old De Mille epic, I was perfectly content to stick with the straight biblical account of God talking to Moses through a burning bush—not appearing as a Buddhist-style child/monk alongside Moses after the bush is set afire. And this Moses doesn’t go to Mt. Sinai to investigate. More like Disney’s Darby O’Gill, he follows wandering livestock up the mountain and then gets caught in a mudslide—more action to spice up the biblical account. This Moses doesn’t rely on God’s authority to lead; he gives speeches to rouse the slaves/rebels.

In the Bible, Jesus turned water into wine, but the way remakes are going these days, you get the feeling that a contemporary director would have him making frozen margaritas instead. Exodus: Gods and Kings will probably appeal most to lovers of action-adventures and audiences not that familiar with the biblical version. Like Noah, it’s a slick-looking action film that looks great in HD and includes a fully immersive DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack.

Language: N/A
Sex: N/A
Violence: Battle scenes, throat slitting, pretty standard for PG-13 fare and not nearly as bad as many movies in this rating category, but too much for younger children
Adult situations: N/A
Takeaway: Moses was a bad dude