Blood! Boils! Locusts! Humongous, ship-devouring Nile crocodiles! Great white sharks! Whoever thought overwrought biblical epics were dead deserves a face-full of locusts and will get one watching Exodus: Gods and Kings. Ridley Scott’s grand and goofy take on Cecil B. DeMille’s holiday chestnut, The Ten Commandments, is a scant two-and-a-half hours compared to Paramount Pictures’ 1954 three-hour-plus marathon, and while Exodus is not quite as much fun (the reflective properties of Yul Brynner’s pate are sorely missed), it is very much in the tradition of Fifties and Sixties-era Biblical epics – and much more entertaining than Darren Aronofsky’s recent Noah.
That’s not to say faith leaders are going to urge congregations to flock to the theatres, however. Scott offers a secular out for every instance of the legendarily miraculous. Thus, the burning bush and everything that follows can be attributed to Moses (Bale, well-cast with his glower dialed up to 11) getting conked on the head by a falling rock after he’s cast out of Egypt by Pharaoh Ramses (Edgerton, resplendent in gold and kohl). There’s a wonderfully droll scene in Ramses’ court as his physician (Bremner, Trainspotting’s Spud) attempts to explain the finer points of how one plague logically leads to the next, via what we now call “bacteria.”
Scott and his quartet of writers squeeze the Book of Exodus down to its most basic tenets, rendering it both a story of God-crossed pseudo-siblings and a thunderous series of generally awesome (as in “awe-inspiring”), CGI-assisted, action set-pieces. The parting of the Red Sea is preceded by a shot of Moses sleepily catching a glimpse of what appears to be a meteor crashing far out into the waves, which raises the question: Yahweh or tsunami? Or both? It doesn’t matter; the watery result is everything “epic” should be.
Extended cameos from the likes of John Turturro as Ramses’ ailing father and a short-changed Sigourney Weaver (she gets maybe five lines in the whole film) are well-handled, but let’s face it: No one goes to unleavened popcorn movies like this for deep thoughts, they go for the huge-budget action, and Scott, unsurprisingly, delivers the goods. Whether it’s Ramses losing half his army in a horrific landslide or vast, sweeping panoramas of the Pharaoh’s Egypt in all its blood-built glory, Exodus is an entertainment of the first order. I’m not so sure about the filmmaker’s decision to render the Metatron archangel as a 9-year-old boy, but what the hell? You get hit on the head with a boulder, who knows what you’ll see?
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.