Movie News & Reviews

‘Exodus’ is Action Movie Moses, not ‘Ten Commandments’

Behold! It’s Action Movie Moses.

Slice! Trusty sword in hand, smiting great smites at swarming Hittite hordes at the start of Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Ka-blooey! In an age before gunpowder, he and his band of doughty Hebrew guerrillas somehow manage to blow up a pharaonic storehouse in great gushes of orangey 3-D flames. It’s Moses, waging wily asymmetric warfare. How very incongruously modern of him.

Chomp! In an age before Spielberg, Scott suddenly unleashes his inner “Jaws” in a scene of humongous CG crocodiles leaping aloft, teeth ripping victims “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”-style, turning the Nile red with blood.

Swoop! In an age before helicopters, Scott contrives zoomy computer-enhanced flyovers of his massive computer-generated ancient Egyptian sets.

Not your father’s “Ten Commandments,” that’s for sure. Moses, played by Christian Bale, doesn’t even get to say, “Let my people go.”

Scott has tried to make a Moses movie to reflect the sensibilities of an age much removed from the 1950s when Charlton Heston and Cecile B. DeMille walked the Earth. Its grandiose set pieces feel empty and imitative (Scott pulled off this kind of thing much more successfully in “Gladiator”), and the whole picture feels glitzy and hollow at the core.

As Moses, Bale plays early scenes with expressions varying from a smirk to a glower as he regards with displeasure the excesses of the bombastic, arrogant Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Later, he turns on the bombast himself as he bellows exhortations to the Hebrew people to follow him into the receding Red Sea in a manner reminiscent of Mel Gibson in his rally-the-troops speech in “Braveheart.”

Bale’s Moses is a growling skeptic and a reluctant believer, acceding late to his role as the man chosen by God to lead his people out of slavery. But the movie gives little sense of him being a man his people will follow because he seems barely connected to them.

His conversations with God are odd because “Exodus’ ” God speaks not through a burning bush (though the bush is there, glowing faintly like a low-wattage neon light), but through a raggedy little bald boy who looks like a refugee from “Lord of the Flies” and talks with a haughty English accent.

Given that, and the fact that it’s Moses himself who chisels out the Ten Commandments in a fleetingly brief scene, this is surely not your traditional Moses movie.

And that’s not a good thing.