With "Exodus: Gods and Kings," director Ridley Scott tackles the biblical story of Moses leading his people to freedom. But in spite of its hefty budget and starry cast led by Christian Bale, the film itself doesn't reach the promised land, according to reviews. Most critics agree that "Exodus" is visually impressive but also uneven and overlong.
The Times' Kenneth Turan says that "'Exodus' is a film determined to stubbornly go its own way whenever it can," although at its core it's "the kind of traditional adventure epic that we've come to expect" from Scott. The director is "in many ways contemporary cinema's preeminent creator of exotic worlds," and here "he has turned the spectacle of ancient Egypt into the film's most plausible reason for being."
As for the dramatic side of "Exodus," though, it "alternates between being completely solemn and unintentionally silly," Turan says. He adds, "In this it is not as far as it thinks from the gold calf standard of biblical epics, 'The Ten Commandments,' a story that Cecil B. DeMille liked so much he filmed it twice. As with the DeMille ventures, enjoyment here involves managing expectations and not taking things too seriously."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott, comparing "Exodus" to this year's earlier biblical blockbuster "Noah," says that the latter film "may have been too strange for some viewers. 'Exodus,' by contrast, crowded with well-known actors, is nowhere near strange enough. More than anything else, it recalls the wide-screen, Technicolor biblical pageants of the 1950s and early '60s, bland and solemn spectacles that invited moviegoers to marvel at their favorite stars in sandals and robes."
To be fair, he adds, "there is some good stuff here, too. Mr. Scott is a sinewy storyteller and a connoisseur of big effects. … But in the past, this director has also shown a knack for intimacy and intensity, for moments of feeling that stand out amid the fight-and-flight adrenaline rushes." Ultimately, "'Exodus' has the makings of a provocative study of power, rebellion and loyalty. To paraphrase a Passover song, that would have been enough. What we get instead is both woefully insufficient and much too much."
USA Today's Claudia Puig writes, "Swarms of flies, oozing pustules, alligator attacks and gaggles of frogs are vividly rendered in three dimensions in 'Exodus: Gods and Kings.' And yet this biblical epic is still bland, overly long and otherwise forgettable. … Those seeking memorable performances and a fresh approach … will want to look elsewhere."
Puig adds that the "expensive-looking, massively staged spectacle, with elaborate costumes and ornate production design, feels bloated, by-the-book and lackluster, and is dotted with risible dialogue. … None of this feels new or fresh."
The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry zeroes in on Scott's decision to portray God as "a bratty and terrifying pre-teen," played by 11-year-old Isaac Andrews. It's "but one absurd choice in this biblical action drama that feels excessive in every way imaginable, from running time (nearly 2 1/2 hours) to melodramatic acting to the conspicuous amount of computer generation."
Merry also writes, "Among the movie's myriad problems is its lack of character development. There are passing attempts at humanizing larger-than-life characters …. But there's a much greater emphasis on battles and apocalyptic images than on personal stories." All told, the movie "has much more in common with 'The Day After Tomorrow' and other examples of disaster porn than 'The Ten Commandments' or 'The Passion of the Christ' or even 'Noah' from earlier this year."
In a slightly more favorable review, the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls the movie "Not great; not bad. Those anticipating a camp hoot will be disappointed. For all his reliance on digital effects, director Scott's sensibilities lean old-school, and he has sense enough to keep everybody on screen in the same movie, working hard and earnestly and with a seriousness of purpose. And now and then, some wit."
Phillips adds, "Momentous conversations periodically grind any retelling of the Moses story to a halt, but Scott keeps his head down, plows through and then gets out of the way while visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang and his slave army take it on home."