All action, no story in Exodus

Director Ridley Scott throws in lots of action scenes into the movie, but the story does not come through. -- PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX
Director Ridley Scott throws in lots of action scenes into the movie, but the story does not come through. -- PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

This film is packed so full of stuff, it becomes clear its biblical premise is only incidental material

Review Drama

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (PG13)

160 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2

The story: Based largely on the life story of Moses as described in the Bible's Book Of Exodus, he (Christian Bale) is first shown as a successful general, going into battle with brother Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) against a foreign enemy. He meets the Hebrew slave Nun (Ben Kingsley), who tells him that he is a Hebrew, saved from a massacre and adopted by the Pharoah's family.

Meet the new Moses: Virile, warlike, the smartest guy in Egypt and, some say, all of the Nile Delta.

Director Ridley Scott does not do angsty or introspective. His heroes (Gladiator, 2000; Robin Hood, 2010) are confident men of action, good with a sword and a terse command.

Think of Scott's bibilical prophet as an antidote to Darren Aronofsky's dithering Noah (2014).

For most of the film, Bale plays the tight-lipped, grim-faced leader of a scrappy band of revolutionaries.

He is the one foretold, born to set his people free. Bale is, in other words, John Connor all over again (Terminator Salvation, 2009), and acts appropriately.

Fittingly enough, Scott kicks things off with a battle scene, quickly followed by one bombastic spectacle after another, easily filling up this epic's two hours and 20 minutes.

Approximate skin tone appears to matter to the film's makers; it explains why most secondary roles are filled by actors of Indian, Iranian and Latin descent. That courtesy stops at the leading roles, in typical Hollywood style.

But by making exceptions to the racial rule, it puts a spotlight on how odd Australian actor Joel Edgerton looks as the head-shaven Ramses II. He looks more eunuch than royal.

Scott is like the performer worried about the crowd booing if he does not do the greatest hits. So he ticks them off, one by one: The ten plagues, the flight from Egypt and of course, the parting of the Red Sea, ending with the delivery of the Ten Commandments.

He throws in a few massed armies and scenic vistas and, just for good measure, a pointless chariot chase down a narrow mountain path. It is his podracer moment.

This movie is so crammed, so busy with stuff, that it becomes evident that Scott uses the Old Testament as source material only incidentally.

Scott's real inspiration is Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) and the aim seems to be to outdo the classic with modern computer graphics and 3-D.

As pure, empty spectacle, this movie would have been reasonably entertaining, if not for the fact that that DeMille's version, using 1950's technology, still trumps this one in images that stir the soul.

Scott of late shows that computers can make everything bigger. Better? Not quite.

johnlui@sph.com.sg