The first time Ridley Scott let slip that he was planning a new movie epic about Moses, he said what interested him about the Biblical figure "isn't the big stuff that everybody knows."
However, as trailers for the film - titled Exodus: Gods and Kings - began to hit the scene, it quickly became obvious this movie isn't so much the "untold story" of Moses (played here by Christian Bale); it's more just The Ten Commandments, redone with modern tentpole values, actors, and the self-seriousness of Scott's previous historical epics (Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, and so on). And unlike when Cecil B. DeMille made his Biblical film adaptations in the 20th century, filmgoers aren't so accepting of things like, say, white-washing casting nowadays.
Is Exodus: Gods and Kings a good movie from Ridley Scott, when you sidestep the complaints about its derivative narrative and/or casting selections? Have a look through the following excerpts from the first wave of reviews (click the corresponding link for the full review), and see what critics are saying thus far.
TRAILER & REVIEWS
Variety - Some may well desire a purer, fuller version of the story, one more faithful to the text and less clearly shaped by the demands of the Hollywood blockbuster. But on its own grand, imperfect terms, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is undeniably transporting, marked by a free-flowing visual splendor that plays to its creator’s unique strengths: Given how many faith-based movies are content to tell their audiences what to think or feel, it’s satisfying to see one whose images alone are enough to compel awestruck belief.
THR - Exodus: Gods and Kings is this century’s answer to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, but it already looks to be more controversial than that pious 1956 opus. Spectacularly filmed and intermittently well acted, though not quite as much campy fun as the DeMille version, the picture looks likely to attract a substantial audience even if some religious leaders voice protests.
The Wrap - If you're going into “Exodus: Gods and Kings” thinking that director Ridley Scott is going to give the Moses story anything we didn't already get from Cecil B. DeMille in two versions of “The Ten Commandments,” prepare to be disappointed. This stodgy adaptation creaks with solemnity — not to mention reactionary casting choices — and apart from some nifty frog and locust infestations, even the special effects pale next to a wind-blown Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea.
Daily Telegraph - The starring supporting cast doesn't really register ... [but] Scott’s refusal to mark out anyone as straightforwardly good gives Exodus a very different flavour to the morally clear-cut Biblical epics of the Fifties, and also to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah... This is bold and uncompromising stuff from Scott; a Biblical epic to shake your faith in the order of things, not reaffirm it.
The Guardian - This should be affecting stuff, but it’s consistently undercut by the massively naff aesthetic... It’s impossible not to feel some awe at the spectacle, but more shocks would have helped see you through the two-and-a-half hour running time. As Moses eventually staggers down with his tablets, looking every day of 120, your chief sense is not excitement at the founding of a faith but relief you can both, finally, clock off.
Screen International - Spectacle run amok, Exodus: Gods And Kings is so big and brawny that it’s almost laughably gargantuan. 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. 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.
The overall response to Exodus: Gods and Kings so far is, well, pretty much par the course for Ridley Scott's recent output as a director. The screenplay written by Bill Collage and Adam Cooper (Tower Heist), Jeffrey Caine (The Constant Gardener), and Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (who previously collaborated with Scott on Hannibal and American Gangster) may be a more traditional - and less bonkers - Biblical retelling than Darren Aronofsky's Noah script, but it also appears to lack the personality of the latter.
Interestingly, it's Joel Egerton as the Egyptian Pharaoh Rhamses - the Exodus casting choice that's caused the most controversy - who has received the highest marks from critics thus far; Moses is described as thinly-drawn compared to past Bale roles (Bruce Wayne, Dicky Eklund, etc.), despite another committed turn by the method actor. But, of course, the question was never really if Edgerton (an acclaimed character actor) would play Rhamses well but rather, is he an appropriate choice for the role in the first place.
Exodus: Gods and Kings, by the sound of it, is a film that (similar to Interstellar last month) demands to be seen in the largest format available... assuming that you have any interest in watching a contemporary blockbuster remake of Ten Commandments, in the first place. Scott's recent films have performed better overseas than here in the States, as far as the box office is concerned; given what else is on the menu this December, that trend will probably continue with Exodus.
Exodus: Gods and Kings opens in U.S. theaters on December 12th, 2014.