Usually, when writers proclaim a story has biblical connotations, implications, or overtones, they suggest a certain primordial grandiosity of themes and conflicts. Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is quite literally biblical, however, and does not even come close to achieving that standard. It takes far more cues from an interminable “Hobbit” film than it does from its source material that inspires billions.
The action on screen plays out like a final walk-through for a real movie. The blocking of actors looks clumsy and without purpose. Lines come across as recited rather than deeply felt. And when the whole film plays out against a CGI-heavy background that can never overcome an overwhelming sensation of artificiality, “Exodus” feels like it could be capable of inspiring its own exodus of audiences fleeing the film itself.
The job of writing a compelling movie about the conflict between Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) seems simple enough. The clash of a pharaoh with a legitimate threat to his empire from a powerful deity is gripping in concept alone. Then add in that the revolution is being spearheaded by his estranged stepbrother, and it becomes the kind of drama that ought to have writers drooling over their keyboards.
Yet most of the film’s problems seem to originate at the level of the script, which likely underwent quite a few drafts given that four writers are given credit. The film certainly does not deserve to bear the name of great scripter Steven Zaillian (screenwriter of stellar work from “Schindler’s List” to “Moneyball“). “Exodus” feels skeletal, the sketch of what a true screenplay should resemble. The general progression of events is in place, but no one has affixed any supplemental scenes to give it depth of character or emotion.