After learning about his Hebrew heritage and being exiled, Moses (Christian Bale) returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves from Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and take them to the promised land.
There are so many problems with Ridley Scott’s wannabe epic Exodus: Gods and Kings that I don’t know where to begin. The movie is nearly three hours long, so you’d assume it would have plenty of time to focus on the most visually-appealing aspects of the Exodus story, like the ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. But somehow, the movie manages to rush through all of that action in favor of boring scenes with Christian Bale’s Moses teaching the Hebrews how to fight back against the Egyptians and Joel Edgerton’s Ramses shouting angrily at those around him.
To make matters worse, the chemistry between Bale and Edgerton is virtually nonexistent. There’s nothing to show that Moses and Ramses had been close (let alone raised together as children) other than them referencing their relationship in dialogue, which means there’s no conflict for Moses when it comes time to face-off with Ramses during the warnings of the plagues. So, basically, the whole movie lacks charisma and relies on boring filler. Definitely not epic.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the whitewashing. Most of the major speaking roles in the film are played by white actors, and it’s glaringly bad because every other actor around these actors is either of African or Middle Eastern descent. Not to mention, the white actors are spray-tanned and covered in dirt so they look less white, which just makes it worse (because it means the filmmakers were aware of the race issue and tried to poorly counteract it).
When asked about the whitewashing, director Ridley Scott said, “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” What an asshole. And sadly, he’s not alone in thinking this because whitewashing has been happening for YEARS.
If you don’t think this is a problem, then you are the problem. Not only does this continue the stupid white savior complex movie trope (See: Dances with Wolves, Avatar), it fuels the justification of racism in Hollywood as well. The reason the majority of movies are led by white males, as well as why movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings get away with casting white dudes in non-white roles, is because the film industry is predominantly male and white.
It’s f***ing 2014, people. This shit needs to stop. The world is not white. (And if you’re about to comment with “reverse racism” nonsense, kindly read this.)
And Ridley Scott…if you have to rely on a well-known white actor to carry your movie, then your movie probably has nothing else going for it besides that actor (Hint: It’s shit). Also, if you’re going to retell a story that’s been told a million times, either improve upon it or give us a new perspective. We’ve seen boring, racist Exodus before.
Overall, Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t deserve to be called “an epic.” While the movie is visually thrilling, the acting is weak, the writing rushes through the most interesting scenes (i.e., the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea), and there’s a giant race issue that the film tries to escape and ends up just holding a magnifying glass to. It’s not even a good religious film because it lacks all of the wonder and spiritualism that makes you believe in miracles.
In my opinion, if you want to watch a great version of the Exodus story, watch Dreamworks’s animated The Prince of Egypt (1998). The music is great, the animation easily puts it in my list of “Best Animated Films,” and the story is miraculous, sad, and beautiful.
Exodus: Gods and Kings: D+
For my radio review of Exodus: Gods and Kings on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 15:20 mark).