Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) Movie Review ~Modern Bible Remakes


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Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) Movie Review: Is God a Kid playing Simcity on his laptop?


Introduction
I have seen most of the “Moses” movies including the “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and even the Dreamworks animation movie “The Prince of Egypt” (1998). It is difficult to place “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) within those movies since it does not really fit as it is not really a religious movie. At the same time, it is one of the overall better movies “Ridley Scott” directed over the past decade or so. It is definitely the better movie among his “I am taking an old tale and ripping the core of the story out and replacing it with a modern theme” movie series he has been doing. This includes “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005) and “Robin Hood” (2010). The “Gladiator” (2000) does not fit into this crowd although “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) references a specific line of dialogue from that movie.


The Plot
The overall plot of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) does not stray too outside of the mythologies set up by prior movies. And did you notice I did not mention the Bible? It is no way as out of the box as the movie Noah (2014) that came out this year although it does share the fact that both movies are not actually religious and most likely made by people with atheist philosophies.


“Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) is a five act movie. The first act starts with Moses and Ramses, the future pharaoh, hanging around doing princely things since they are “The Princes of Egypt”.  And this movie keeps with the cinematic tradition of making those two out to be almost brothers at first. The second act is the Moses being kicked out because he is a “damn dirty “ Hebrew according to the movie and then finds a nice little sheep village somewhere out in nowhere and ends up hooking up with a local dame. Think “A Good Year” (2006) but without all the grapes, whine, and Russell Crowe. This movie makes me miss Russell Crowe.


The third act is Moses coming back to Egypt after the whole burning bush thing and becoming “Osama bin laden” of the Hebrew slaves. This means blowing up things and going around creating terror. Yes, this movie makes Moses into a Terrorist and Ramses into… Bush?


The fourth act is where the real fun comes in as God turns on the Disaster option in his “Simcity” game and hits the capital city of Egypt with lighting attacks, locus swarms attacks, killing all the first sons Super weapon.
Good times!!!!
Good times!!!
Both Moses and Ramses do nothing like the handful of digital code they are in God’s video game. The final act is the whole “splitting of the red sea” thing and the ten commitments squished onto the end of the movie.  

Atheism and Religion
The first thing you notice when the movie starts is that the casting is rather weird for a historical period piece set in the BC era. You have “Christian Bale” doing his Bruce Wayne impression in ancient Egypt as Moses. You have “John Turturro” who is a very 20th century feeling actor playing the elder pharaoh. You have the very modern and, even can be called the futuristic, “Sigourney Weaver” playing the elder queen. You have Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad” playing Joshua. None of these actors should be cast in a historical period piece set in the BC era. Other than “Ben Kingsley“, Joel Edgerton who plays Ramses is the most period appropriate but even this is somewhat not a great fit.


The second thing you notice is the strong Atheist themes in the movie. Moses starts out as an Atheist and does not really become a devout religious believer in the movie. Following God because you see God cast epic magical attack spells does not mean that you are a religious believer. It just means that you know who is the strongest being in the room. This Atheist theme is in constant conflict with the Religious of the world view of the time period since the opening of the movie.

This Atheism vs. Religion discussion is a very modern theme. At least, it is modern compared to the time of the Moses tale. It is not even a subtle theme that is only meant for the audience and not for the characters in the movie. The movie has “Ewen Bremner” from Pearl harbor (2001), another actor who should not be in this movie, trying to explain the divine plagues as a natural phenomenon using scientific terms that should not exist for thousands of years. This movie is so covered with modern concepts, modern feeling actors and modern themes. It simply does not work. This is where you see what the director, “Ridley Scott”, is interested in and it is not the Moses tale.


No man putteth new wine into old bottles (Luke 5:37)
As I stated previously, “Ridley Scott” has been doing these “Reboot” movies of old powerful tales. It is an approach of using the shell of old powerful stories to continue a social/philosophical discussion started in modern day. However, there is a reason for the saying “No man putteth new wine into old bottles” (Luke 5:37). In the context of this movie, it is that the Moses tale is nothing without the religious, cultural, and racial identity themes. Those themes make the Moses tale powerful. You can transplant those themes into a new setting such as modern or even futuristic settings. However, the reversal rarely works since the new themes, more than not, are not as powerful as the old one. There are, at least, less primal to human nature.  

“Ridley Scott” is not the only one who is trying this “Reboot” approach. However, he is the only mainstream blockbuster director who takes it seriously and keeps failing at it. The old tales are the product of many generations of wise people refining the tale. “Ridley Scott”is not in their league. This is the problem with “Ridley Scott” as the director. Being a visual artist does not mean that you are a great thinker or philosopher. “Ridley Scott”, as a great visual artist, is under the misguided delusion that he is a great thinker. So, he keeps trying to make “message” movies that do not work. What is worse with his “I am taking an old tale and ripping the core of the story out and replacing it with a modern theme” movies are that they end up destroying the old powerful stories and replace them with nothing really as strong. Thus, the overall experience is negative.

Being atheist in a religious story
Retelling a religious story from an Atheist point of view creates some inherit problems. What do you do with the supernatural? The movie “Troy” (2004) went the denial route and ignored any supernatural elements to the story.  Noah (2014) dipped into the Fantasy genre to handle the supernatural. So, the divine elements were far less weird than the other Fantasy ones.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) actually walks with tightrope between Atheist realism and religious supernatural. While, initially, it gives hints that it might go the “is there a god or is it only in my head” route. However, this is quickly cleared up once God starts using his figurative but real super-duper magical attack cards in the movie. You cannot deny the existence of powerful being once you actually see power in action. However, seeing is not believing. It is definitely not a religious belief.

This is where the movie keeps to its Atheist point of view. There is no religion in this movie. Moses is really only strong armed into doing what he is doing because well… it is hard to say no to God. Even the Hebrews do not seem to actually have religion although the movie barely let’s the Hebrews be anything other than background scenery. Other than “Ben Kingsley“, who disappears midway through the movie, Moses does not interact with any Hebrew characters in any significant character manner. The next most prominent Hebrew character is Joshua played by “Aaron Paul”. But even this is more of an extended minor character who is there just for name value than anything else. The only significant character relationship Moses has, in the main plot, is either with Ramses or God.


Being chums with God
So, what is Moses relationship with God? Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) understanding of a Deity is basically on the same level as Prometheus (2012) directed by the same person. In other words, Deities are just powerful non-human entities. To be frank, the God represented in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) could easily be just an Alien or the movie could be in the “Matrix” and a 12 year old gamer boy is toying with his digital subjects. This is where the movie is at least interesting although being the least loyal to the original tale.

If you just see God as an entity similar to you but only with bigger toys, how do you interact with him? Well, you tread carefully but try to cozy up to God as much as you can. This is what Moses does by being God’s reluctant errand boy. I mean this is basically the reason why Moses came back to Egypt in the first place according to the movie. Since the movie excised a lot of the Hebrew cultural identity stuff out of the story and Moses does not really interact or bond with the Hebrews from what can be seen in the movie, the motivations of Moses becomes rather weak other than he is God’s lackey.

This being a lackey thing is more evident when God starts showing off and using magic. In the original tale, Moses has more agency in this process. Every time a new plague is set upon the Egyptians, Moses goes to Ramses. In this movie, Moses does nothing like that. He only complains to God that God is being too harsh on the Egyptians since Moses has a stronger emotional bond with the Egyptians than with the Hebrews. It is God who seems to be very pissed and is out for blood that Moses doesn’t want spilled.

So, letting aside the whole destruction of an old powerful story thing, is “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) a good movie?


The things I liked
On an objective scale, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014)  is not great. However, compared to many of  Ridley Scott’s “message” movies, it is at least entertaining. The movie runs for a little over 2 hours and, once God shows up and flexes his powers, it is as Entertaining as seeing something burn and burn and burn. Prior to that point, the movie is watchable at best. This is because of the focus on relationships the movie has in its earlier parts which is in contrast with the whole God thing in the later parts.

The relationship between Moses and Ramses has potential as seen in many other movies. However, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) does not properly execute and develop this relationship. Thus, a lot of the emotional reactions the characters have in the later acts feels forced. On the other hand, Moses’ personal relationships with his family are better but not enough is in the movie to matter. In regards to other relationships, I would have to say what relationships other than with God?

In a lot of ways, Moses’ relationship with God as shown in the movie is the most interesting and entertaining relationship in the movie. As a side note, God is not just a voice over or a burning bush in this movie. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) goes for the whole you can see me and talk to me but no one else can route that movies tend to use as it is more visual than having God as just a floating voice somewhere in the sky. I wished the movie actually had more scenes with Moses and God just talking about deep stuff.

At the end
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) is an atheist’s approach or “God is an Alien?” type of approach to religious tales that pushes the boundaries enough to get away with it without being too controversial. It at least pretends that it is somewhat of a religious movie. At the minimum, it is better than any Christian movie coming out of USA over the last decade. Some may not really notice what the director is doing because of the visual spectacle of God playing “Magic the Gathering: Card game” and awkwardly cast actors trying to make us believe that they are Old Testament characters and failing at it.

What I find most interesting about “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) is that the movie, itself, becomes more interesting when you notice what the director is doing than when you have no idea. Without getting what is going on underneath the surface, the movie is just a middling religious movie that is not great.


I give this movie a B- for effort.

As a side note, this movie is dedicated to Tony Scott (1944 -2012) who passed away two years ago. RIP Tony Scott.


Score: B- or 6/10




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