louferrigno’s review published on Letterboxd:
Great Directors' Misfires (17/27)
Ridley Scott has a way of making everything he touches look much more extraordinary than it would normally suggest, a stylistic drive that's often seen as artificial and yet praised by many as a result of the decorative atmosphere he can create on a good day. Blithe and versatile, Scott has always been able to forge striking images from any time period, whether in 1492 just as the "New World" would be soon discovered, or the smokey noir-infused future of twenty-first century L.A., and his qualities as a great director are hard to challenge even at his worst films. The problems that all of his misfires seem to share (the amount of which have grown considerably in the 21st century) is that Scott isn't selective enough with his scripts and has grown willing to film what he thinks will look interesting regardless if the tale it weaves is crap, growing more agreeable with the Hollywood system as an old man compared to the rouge spirit he naturally had to have starting out the gate that saw him re-writing and having a greater hand in the scripts he dealt with (of course, given the many "Director's Cuts" that exist of his films, he's got plenty of bones to pick with the way Hollywood handles his footage). Trying to pick out his biggest flop has become tricky by this point, but the film that screamed "dead-on-arrival-also-fuck-you" the most was absolutely Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film that was an absolute bomb (domestically, even then factoring in worldwide gross doesn't leave an impressive mark) for three reasons:
1. Nobody wanted to see the story of Moses turned into a swords-and-sandals epic (hell, most didn't wanna watch the story of Moses to begin with, seeing clips of Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea was good enough for the average man)
2. Nobody wanted to see it after the buzz of controversy swarmed over most of the principal actors being played by whiteys, and not Hebrews or Egyptians.
3. Nobody wanted to see yet another nontraditional interpretation of Biblical scripture after Darren Aronofsky's Noah beat Scott to the punch by nine months and offended Fundamentalist Christians to the high heavens (alongside people who have good taste).
I would like to position an additional fourth reason towards the monumental failure of this film that I think gets right to the core of why its as universally disliked as it is: it is a boring $140,000,000 identity crisis that has no idea whether to take its tale into by-the-books grounded tedium or obnoxiously silly literal-ism from scripture and as a result is completely, unwavering in its emotionally empty presentation (give credit to Aronofsky, at least him snorting bath salts for 2-and-1/4 hours was more interesting than this trite).
I'm not gonna go over its historical inaccuracies because that would require a tome as big as the Bible itself (alright, maybe one of those pocket editions, let's not abuse hyperbole just yet), but they're the tip of the iceberg for what's an exceptionally badly-written humanistic tale that wrings the worst kind of maudlin melodrama over the course of an agonizing 150 minutes. Moses not knowing his origins is played-up in such a pitiful way that it never develops into any emotional weight or even gets much in the way of development besides a plot point that gets dropped quickly, while the pseudo-brother relationship between him and Ramesses II has a lot of stock put into it, yet is devoid of any reason to really care about how their ideologies split them apart (not helping is the haughty transformation of the latter that demolishes the plausibility of already-terrible lines) and does not pay off in any meaningful way. It also doesn't help matters that Moses has absolutely no conviction and he becomes one of the most uninteresting people in his own story, where it's slowly revealed that Christian Bale is no Charlton Heston (....what a weird sentence to type out) on account of Bale flip-flopping between his accent being British or Batman and turning passive moments of self-doubt into self-amused vengeful bouts that provide nothing in terms of keeping me going for a story so clueless towards how to portray and cultivate actual reality without embracing ham-fisted territories. This is the type of thing that runs the gamut for schlock territory, but it takes its drama so fucking seriously that there's not even any emotional fun for whenever the film goes awry, meaning the film rams you over the head with the plight of men that have as much prowess as a blank canvas.
But this is an "epic" after all, and what would an epic be without a big battle to open the film that serves little consequence, is herky-jerky in its movements, is edited lightning-fast so you have barely any idea what the hell is happening, and is also bland and uninspired? That's not the only moment of grandeur, as because this is the Exodus we're talking about, we've also got the ten plagues that Scott decides to bumrush through and is the closest thing to "inspired" and "emotionally stirring" that the film gets for me (I think this is the point where Aronofsky decided to share his leftover bath salts with Scott). Things get nutty, but this also creates a devastating blow to the film as the sudden mysticism ends up nullifying the realistic tone set upon by the film's first hour-or-so (not that it was doing a good job at doing that), and recedes in the background in such a rapid flash, returning to monotony and doing nothing to even suggest any tension or intense stakes from that point onward, not even for its larger-than-life climax which just drudges itself along with the same empty sensation as the rest of the film. Also, ummmm, God is not only an 11-year-old child here (I'm more concerned with the fact that the kid can't act rather than any theological scorn this implies), but also behaves like a supervillian here, since the actions of the big G are pretty unambiguously portrayed as irrational, ill-tempered, and cruel and are all praised by Moses, whom Bale himself approached like a stark-raving maniac that praises the divinity of a being that pretty openly terrorizes Egypt for mostly kicks (I would possibly suggest this being some sort of critique-laden commentary from Scott as he's an avowed atheist, but....fuck me this shit's too boring to try and dig deeper for a subtle message, it's not worth it even if the spite is real).
True to Scott's form, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a gorgeous film, crisp in its sheen that really tries to unearth as much detail for its Egyptian setting as much as possible, and for the most part turns out set-pieces that, even if the sluggish pace and terrible editing, can be good to look at (except for the CG, woof that's pretty dated and laughable here, also my comments on the opening battle still stand, that's the exception to the rule). Watching the film, however, is like trying to eat a chocolate cake that has nothing but sawdust inside, as it's completely unappealing and offers almost nothing but the void in terms of providing entertainment and human drama, dragging along with its dullness that never seems to end, to the point that I might as well have watched The Ten Commandments, considering this felt twice its length anyway and Cecil B. DeMille might have at least understood the kitsch of his Bible epic better than the try-hard serious nature of a film that wants to avoid campiness and yet dives headfirst with that same serious conviction the moment frogs take over the city. To hell and brimstone with this piece of shit (and boy it is it fucking lucky that Phobia absorbed most of my will for unbridled contempt last night).