Profiling Ridley Scott for Variety, Scott Foundas suggests that Exodus: Gods and Kings “may qualify as his Olympic Games: a gargantuan 3D event movie made at a cost of $140 million (closer to $200 million before European tax credits) on a shooting schedule (74 days) more befitting a modestly scaled biopic or costume drama. But in working industriously, Scott hasn’t made any compromises. His Exodus is at once a work of massive, David Lean-like scale—with dazzling crowd and battle scenes that rival or eclipse Scott’s own 2000 Oscar-winner Gladiator—and also a serious-minded moral drama that renders Moses’ journey in more complex emotional and psychological terms (and arguably more in line with the actual biblical version of Moses) than any prior screen version of the tale.”
Adds Variety‘s Justin Chang: “What’s remarkable about Scott’s genuinely imposing Old Testament psychodrama is the degree to which he succeeds in conjuring a mighty and momentous spectacle—one that, for sheer astonishment, rivals any of the lavish visions of ancient times the director has given us—while turning his own skepticism into a potent source of moral and dramatic conflict.”
“Exodus: Gods and Kings has computer-generated plagues, waves and tornadoes,” writes the New York Times‘ Michael Cieply. “It has boat-chomping crocodiles, 400,000 digitally rendered Hebrew slaves and a sword-wielding Christian Bale as a Gladiator-like Moses. But God may still steal the show. Exodus, to be released on Dec. 12, preserves the awful severity of the Old Testament God—one who commands and demands—and does it all within the persona of a willful child. Mr. Scott uses an 11-year-old British actor, Isaac Andrews, to give voice and visage to his Almighty, rather than concealing the deity behind a pillar of fire, too terrible for the eye of man, as Cecil B. DeMille chose to do in his Ten Commandments.”
“We start in ancient Egypt, as conceived by someone who’s spent a lot of time in the hotels of Beverley Hills,” writes the Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard. “This is home for two brothers, Moses and Ramses, the first (Christian Bale) earnest in a toweling dressing gown, the other (Joel Edgerton) only opting for clothes if they’re gold, and then generally just a skirt and choker. Pious Moses dotes on dying dad, the pharaoh Seti (John Turturro). Ramses looks on crossly and stomps off to fondle his pythons. Moses thinks the slaves should be freed. Ramses disagrees. ‘From an economic standpoint alone, what you say is problematic—to say the least.’ (Dialogue quality is sacrificed at the altar of accessibility.)”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Farber agrees: “Four writers—Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Oscar winner Steven Zaillian—are credited with the screenplay, and they haven’t been able to craft an elegant narrative from the Biblical text. Their dialogue is often cringe-worthy, as when a surly Moses tells God, ‘Nice of you to come.'” What’s more: “Bale garbles a few too many of his lines, but he has an imposing physical presence. Edgerton is competent, but we miss the hammy exuberance of DeMille’s Ramses, Yul Brynner. Ben Mendelsohn, however, has fun with the role of the sniveling, treacherous viceroy who exposes Moses’ true heritage. Ben Kingsley adds gravitas as the elderly Jewish leader, but most of the other actors are stranded with far too little to do. Sigourney Weaver is completely wasted as Ramses’ conniving mother, and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul barely registers in the underwritten role of Joshua.”
“Mistaking massive amounts of CGI and epically dour performances for historical gravitas, Ridley Scott’s latest wants to tell the story of Moses with the scope of a blockbuster but the soul of a gritty character drama,” writes Tim Grierson for Screen. “What that leaves us with, unfortunately, is a self-serious movie in which the filmmaker of Gladiator and Robin Hood buries an iconic tale in lavish overkill.”
For Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, Exodus “feels like a missed opportunity for the director to flex his fantastical tendencies. After all, what are the 12 plagues if not an alien invasion story?”
Back in the Guardian, Andrew Pulver notes that “Exodus has not been without controversy… with vocal complaints over its ethnically questionable casting.” Pulver refers us back to Scott Foundas’s interview. Says Scott: “I can’t mount a film of this budget… 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.”
Alonso Duralde at TheWrap: “Whether or not you found the looniness of Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah to be effective, at least it was an attempt to inject some life into an ancient tale, one where all the characters mainly exist in service to their role in the story, with perhaps a personality facet or two if they’re lucky. With the exception of Moses learning his true identity and grappling with his role in history—which Bale does fairly stiffly—everyone else gets one note to play, whether it’s arrogance or kindness or humility or sadism. The big set pieces don’t pop enough to justify this movie’s existence.”
Update, 11/30: From the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin: “The film pits brother against brother, race against race, and mankind against God—or perhaps Nature, depending on how you read it. It’s the kind of stuff you might expect to find at a Werner Herzog retrospective, not a Friday evening at the multiplex. Though the film occasionally becomes too wrapped up in its own enormousness, you have to applaud Scott for the unwavering toughness of his vision.”
Updates, 12/9: Exodus gets a C- from Drew Taylor at the Playlist.
Meantime, Musa Okwonga for the New Statesman: “At first glance, Scott seems to be correct that a film with a relatively unknown lead is an impossible sell—even if ‘Mohammad so-and-so’ seems jarringly dismissive—yet he should more closely interrogate his motives and capacity for making such a film. First, there is his capacity…. It is entirely possible that, given his status, he could create a platform for young, outstanding yet undiscovered actors. Scott may feel entitled to hold up his hands and say that the system is bigger than him, that he is merely subject to his whims. It is then, however, that we move to his motives. Scott’s primary intention appears not to be the realistic ethnic representation of his new venture: it is to boost the bottom line.”
Updates, 12/14: At the AV Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky gives it a C: “Every bit as fusty as Robin Hood, Ridley Scott’s biblical epic takes two off-beat, more or less mutually exclusive interpretations of Exodus—God is a delusion motivated by Moses’ latent guilt; God is real, but only helping the Jews because he wants to punish the Pharaohs for deifying themselves—and flattens them into 2.5 hours of digital mattes, CGI disasters, and scowling. If nothing else, Exodus: Gods and Kings makes it easier to appreciate Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which, for all of its flaws, was at least animated by a personal relationship to the Old Testament.”
Writing for the Atlantic, Emma Green argues that “in spite of itself, perhaps even unintentionally, Exodus manages to be provocative. Every year, Jews revisit the story of the exodus at Passover, remembering how the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt. Throughout history, this narrative has been a foundational part of Jewish identity. But ever so slightly, Scott—who is an atheist—reframes this narrative, highlighting the morally troubling quality of any people being a ‘chosen people.'”
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 2.5/5), Shaun Brady (Philadelphia City Paper, C-), Robert Horton (Seattle Weekly), Jonathan Kiefer (SF Weekly), Christy Lemire (RogerEbert.com, 1.5/4), Amy Nicholson (Voice), Christopher Orr (Atlantic), Keith Phipps (Dissolve, 2.5/5), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), A.O. Scott (New York Times), Kelly Vance (East Bay Express) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed).
Ridley Scott’s film Exodus: Gods and Kings is both the product and tool of a white-supremacist socio-economic system whose primary goal is to maintain and abuse white cultural, economic and social power over non-white people—with a special interest in wielding white straight male superiority over people of African, Asian and Indigenous American descent living in the United States. Like Birth of a Nation before it, the film traffics in absurd cultural appropriation and brown-faced minstrel casting/makeup techniques to rewrite African history as European history, and in so doing propagates the idea that European cultural centrality is more important than historical fact and the ever-evolving self-image of African-descended people as it is influenced by popular representations of people of color in Western media distributed worldwide.
And he explains. At considerable length.
Exodus “equates religious belief with military might, not as a critique but as a stance,” argues Wesley Morris at Grantland. “All the film seems to understand of the Bible is bellicosity, which aligns conveniently with Scott’s priorities as a director. The movie is going for an angle, after all, and the angle is ‘defense contractors love the Old Testament, too.’ The movie really gets off on the 10 plagues passages. Blood pools into lakes. Crocodiles chomp on fishermen. Edgerton’s beautiful face starts to bubble. Scott knows how to bring this kind of violence to life. But isn’t that some of the trouble with the world as it stands: the interpretation of Scripture as a moralist action movie?”
Update, 12/30: “While arguments about whitewashing continue to rage, Exodus arrives on screen with more than enough dramatic shortcomings to overshadow its problematic racial politics,” finds the Observer‘s Mark Kermode.
Update, 1/13: “Perhaps the strangest aspect of Exodus: Gods and Kings is how it mashes together not only things from different periods but also localities that are actually many miles apart,” writes Kristin Thompson, who definitely knows her ancient Egyptian history.