If Gladiator and the 1963 Cleopatra movie had a baby, it would be Exodus. Today, I saw a fairly large preview of Ridley Scott's return to blockbuster sword-swinging action. It was epic and silly and grand and filled with Hollywood blockbuster madness. Here are our spoilery thoughts.
Exodus is Scott's take on Biblical, "Let-my-people-go" Moses story. And no, Christian Bale (who plays Moses) does not utter those iconic words—at least not in any of the footage that premiered today—but he does go FULL Bale in a few scenes. And by "full Bale," I mean screaming every other word in dramatic moments, paired with a crazy eye and a glint of lunacy. That is fun to watch in a movie that is mostly spectacle like Exodus. But more on that later. For now, let's start at the very beginning.
The first clip we got to see was set during the good old days of Moses and Rhamses (played by Joel Edgerton), but with a bloody tilt. In this iteration, Moses is Rhamses cousin, but the Pharaoh (John Turturro) still prefers Moses. In fact, he loves them both so much that he gifts them each with a super fancy sword with his own name on it. And as a vow to always protect each other, Moses and Rhamses each carry the sword with the other's name on it. FORESHADOWING.
Turturro is only in this briefly, but he looks great. Truly the Egyptian costumes, makeup and wigs are something that would make even the late great Elizabeth Taylor oooh and aaah. The mighty Pharaoh is wearing a massive black and gold striped headdress and his spouse, Tuya (Sigourney Weaver), is also dressed head-to-toe in splendor. Alas, neither of them is in the preview that much and they did very little other than give larger characters the side eye. And speaking of eyes, everyone is wearing the most spectacular eyeliner ever. Everyone. Edgerton, Turturro, Weaver—they all have just fantastic eyeliner and honestly, it sounds ridiculous, but the eyeliner is reason enough to see this movie.
After a brief family meeting with the local oracle and some Egyptian god pandering, Moses and Rhamses are sent off to fight the Hittites—but not before a few gargantuan sweeping shots of the grandiose realm that is Pharaoh's Kingdom.
And here's where Exodus goes full Gladiator. The war scene is long and bloody and has a lot of Bale running his shiny new sword into random villains (who are of all sorts of various races). Obviously, at some point Moses saves Rhamses' life, because of course he does.
Moving on, at this time I should point out that I've seen the animated feature The Prince of Egypt some 1,000 times. So unfortunately for Exodus, any derailing of the plot of that movie, which I consider to be Biblical canon, feels odd to me. Fortunately for Exodus, the decisions the writers made as to how Moses would be expelled from his comfortable homeland help elevate this action movie into something a bit more adult, which we saw in the next two preview scenes.
Moses heads off to a different part of the Egyptian sprawl to check in on Egyptian business work. Basically he goes on a business trip. While there, he runs into one person I'm especially excited to see in this movie, Sir Ben Kingsley. It's on this Moses work trip that Kingsley tells Bale that he's a Hebrew, and because of the two actors standing ludicrously close outside the hut (whom the camera makes sure to cut to eight times), Rhamses finds out. This is where shit goes off the rails. Naturally, Rhamses goes full crazy at the rumors, and threatens to cut off the hand of Moses' "sister" if she keeps saying she's not Hebrew. You see, the Pharaoh's sister found both Moses and his sister and raised them as her own adopted children, but lied about their sibling relation. It's totally nuts, with Edgerton wailing around going all-out crazy Pharaoh. Long story short, Moses gets exiled from Egypt. It's great because it shows the total batshit craziness of the new Pharaoh Rhamses. If he's willing to believe speculation and prophecy over his "brother," who has saved his life countless times, well then yeah, he will probably get Egypt into some deep shit in the future. Which he does.
So let's just skip to that, shall we? The plagues, how do they look? Well, they look gross. Really, really gross. That's the point. I got to see maybe four out of the ten plagues, but they were all disgusting. The "rivers turned to blood" plague focuses less on the actual blood part and more on the impact of turning Egypt's main source of water into blood. All the fish die, then the fish go bad. The river is basically covered in dead fish and flies. Everyone is gagging over the smell and then the crops are ruined. Next are the frogs, which is really more funny than gross, but the locusts and the flies are vile. There's one particular moment when a man is being surrounded by so many flies it appears as if they are swarming into every orifice in his body. It's great—super Hollywood, super spectacle great.
But the real kicker was Moses' return. No longer the chubby boy with the sword, new god-fearing Moses has a huge beard and the look of an insane person. And that look is emphasized by the pulsing vein just below Bale's eye that perfectly pops out mid-Moses meltdown. New Moses means business, and new Moses does NOT fuck around. New Moses shows up under the cover of darkness and puts a sword to Rhamses' throat asking why he sent assassins to murder his family (what assassins?). New Moses screams every seventh word. New Moses is insane. It's totally great.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the big, big moments, but that's understandable. The burning bush, angel of death, parting of the Red Sea and FIRE TORNADO were not shown, but I'm assuming Ridley wants people to pay for that. Understandable.
In the end, Exodus is a lot more like Gladiator and a lot less like the Bible, and that should make for high sales at the box office. It's utterly Hollywood and the plague FX are just popcorn-into-face-shoveling fun. Also, the hats in this thing are just fabulous.