Box Office Democracy: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a throwback to another era of filmmaking, a time when Hollywood was obsessed with sweeping epics and the infamous “cast of thousands” drawing people to the theater to see the sheer spectacle of it all. While there’s certainly no shortage of spectacle at the multiplexes these days Exodus feels less like a loving throwback and more like a lumbering dinosaur, it’s feels like a movie from a different era for sure but I would much prefer it felt like something I’d never seen than something that bored my in middle school. It wastes a talented cast and some stunning visuals but just ultimately feels pointless.
The problems in Exodus all come back to problems with the protagonist. Moses does not resemble the character I remember from Sunday school; he’s a brilliant general and a peerless swordsman to name two new characteristics. None of this newfound character badassery is of any use at all to the story though as all of the work of liberating the Hebrew slaves from their bondage is done by God. God even specifically calls out Moses’ ineptitude when his plan of guerilla warfare will take too long. The main character has nothing to do with any of the successes or failures in the main plot past the very first section of the movie and so there’s very little investment in the outcome especially when you consider that literally everyone in the audience knows how this story ends.
Ridley Scott is a fantastic director and he has made a beautiful movie. He makes the ten plagues feel so big and so horrible the mini-montages are practically worth the price of admission themselves. They show a level of craft and an eye for cinema that comes from a superb director, I have no doubt that most other people would have made worse choices and produced something that felt either overdone or campy. Unfortunately outside of the plague scenes the movie looks just a little too much like Gladiator for my taste. These old suits of armor and the massive armies don’t feel fresh to me; they feel like Scott is trying to use an old shorthand to connect to his audience. It feels just a touch too lazy and lazy is never a word I would have used about Ridley Scott before.
I feel it’s important to touch upon the race issues in the film because if anything I think they’re being underreported. Yes, all of the principle characters in the film are played by white people and that’s horrible but it’s really telling where they decided where it was ok to case people of color: the wives of Moses and Ramses. In these roles they cast an Iranian and a Spanish woman and exoticized them as much as they possibly could. These women have the darkest skin of almost anyone in the movie and with that comes an elevated level of sexualization. Nefertari is only seen in bed and Zipporah does this repeated bit of weird sexual gatekeeping. It’s the worst racial choice in a movie full where dozens of white people wear makeup to appear browner. It’s profoundly disappointing.