Exodus: Gods and Kings – a lengthy, CGI-driven letdown

I’ll tell you one thing about Christian Bale, the guy can rock a formidable beard when he wants to. It is telling when my first comment about Ridley Scott’s latest swords and sandals epic is a quip about Bale’s beard. Before I go on an extended rant of sorts it’s worth saying first, Exodus: Gods and Kings is not a bad film, but it does suffer from a few factors that have (no pun intended) plagued a few films in recent years.

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The primary factor driving this plague is director power. People like Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott… they’ve got to points in their careers where they can do as they please. Whether that’s story, casting, characters, or simply indulging in the things that they seemingly love the most about making movies. (For Tarantino it’s overblown dialogue, for Scott and Jackson it’s superfluous special effects.)

With Exodus it appears Scott has passed the point of no return. I’ve been convinced his star has been on the wane for years. (I mean, at what point can you continue to ride the success of Gladiator? It’s fifteen years old now.) For this one we all know the story: Moses (Christian Bale) gets visions from God and, following plagues and more inflicted on the Egyptians, he leads his people from slavery to freedom via a crossing of the Red Sea.

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Before he becomes a shepherd and starts with the visions, he begins the film as an Egyptian General, fighting battles alongside his buddy Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). After the death of his father Seti (John Turturro) Ramesses assumes power and starts to show much more of his evil side. Following certain events Ramesses finds out Moses is a Hebrew and banishes him. Thereafter begins Moses: The Shepherd Years.

To return to an earlier point, the parallels between Exodus and Gladiator are clear to see and numerous. Both films have a General that is banished/exiled by an increasingly deranged leader. Both have lead characters that had to deal with the death of a father figure. The comparisons go on, but if you watch the film you’ll see for yourself.

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For a bit of balance it’s worth noting, as I mentioned earlier, that it’s not all bad. Scott does give us a smattering of scenes that explore the nature of faith and belief. With each plague that rains down upon the evil Egyptians we’re left wondering, do they deserve it? And Edgerton’s Ramesses, whilst clearly misguided and straight up evil in some ways, gives us glimpses of his softer, more human side. He’s a caring father and simply cannot comprehend why bad things keep happening. If you believe you’re a God and slaves are slaves, why would you think any different?

Sticking with casting though, other than Bale and Edgerton, the rest of this top-notch cast get very, very little to do. Sigourney Weaver has maybe two lines, as does Ben Mendelsohn and Aaron Paul. Sir Ben Kingsley does the best of the supporting cast, he gets about five lines.

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The overwhelming impression I got from this film, was that Scott was more interested in showing us special effects than he was about exploring character (criminal really, given the cast list) and the nature of faith and belief. By all means, show us spectacle. Give us action. But do it to support your story and your characters. Otherwise it’s just window dressing.

Black lays Stark comically bare for Iron Man 3

You have to hand it to Shane Black, he’s got me torn in a good and bad way. There’s no questioning his screenplay skills, the man can write.

Past work includes Lethal Weapon 1-4, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the latter being his directorial debut. Yet I feel this latest instalment in the mandarinbenkingsleyIron Man franchise, whilst generally good, may have missed a trick or two.

Plot wise, this picks up soon after the events of Avengers. Tony is in a bad way suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and the like.

Then, to kick him whilst he’s down, The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) appears on the scene; a shadowy, terrorist-type figure, taking credit for a series of bombings, issuing death threats to the President – that sort of thing.

One bombing results in the injury of Tony’s former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau), which is the last straw. With a ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, Tony tells The Mandarin to pay him a visit, which he duly does with attack helicopters and missiles.

Iron-Man-3-PepperWith his house in ruins and precious iron suit out of power, Tony is stripped back to his wits and surroundings to fight back – much in the way he was in the original. Although this time in snowy Tennessee in winter, as opposed to a sandy cave in the Middle East.

Throw the suave and sophisticated Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in the mix, as a pair trying to convince Stark Enterprises to buy into their ‘extremis’ product  (an experimental regenerative treatment) and you’ve got the basis for a rip-roaring film. Let’s face it, anything would be an improvement on Iron Man 2 at this point.

Happily, Black largely delivers. He’s known for sharp, witty one-liners – not only from the main cast, but minor characters too – so iron-man-3-review Stark should suit him down to the ground. I say should, as there’s a few minor quibbles that stop this being a truly great superhero flick.

First off, what’s with everything being a back-to-basics origin story these days? Batman and Bond ‘went dark’, with Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel appearing to follow suit. Seems hero characters are all being stripped back with Hollywood saying ‘We must have an origin story or people won’t buy into it!’ Not true.

Luckily it’s not all darkness, Black is a dab hand at a quick, witty lines to lift the tone. However, to nit pick somewhat, you could argue he uses this skill a bit too much. Yes, play to your strengths, but there were times when dramatic tone was needed mayahansento build tension and Black retreated to his comfort zone with an amusing line and the moment was lost.

This was clear to see when Tony suffered from anxiety attacks frequently early on, but these were often dismissed or trivialised by other characters and the scene quickly moved on. Surely there was more mileage in exploring his mental state more thoroughly? It would have added depth to Stark’s character.

Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen was an intriguing character and got me thinking maybe she’d add depth to Stark’s journey, yet Black shied away from exploring this too. Kingsley’s Mandarin was similarly short-changed on the dramatic front. Most surprising, given the calibre of these actors the director had at his disposal.

That aside, Black more than delivers on action and humour – perfect for this character – yet perhaps falls short when it comes to dramatic depth. As a result we’re left with the funniest Iron Man to date – the extra comedy putting it on par with the original – but you’re left feeling that, instead of another gag, more substance at times would have been more refreshing.

Let’s leave you with classic Black, ‘This isn’t good cop bad cop, this is fag and New Yorker.’

[Interesting links]
Crash, bang, wallop – Shane Black action movie masterclass
Iron Man – behind the scenes