christian bale in exodus gods and kingsIt's easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. With all the emphasis on the trees and the lights and the shiny, shiny gifts, it's easy to forget about the holiday's deeply religious roots, about the birth of Christ and the three wise men and all of that. And there's at least one movie out this season that tries to at least carry the spiritual flavor of the holiday forward -- Fox's "Exodus: Gods and Kings," an epic, hugely expensive re-telling of the story of Moses (this time played by former Batman Christian Bale) leading the Jews out of Egypt, and far away from the cruel pharaoh (Joel Edgerton).

This is a story that has been told countless times before, most notably in the cinematic incarnations of "The Ten Commandments" (starring Charlton Heston) and "Prince of Egypt" (the DreamWorks animated disappointment). So the question remains -- why now? Or, maybe better yet -- why bother? Read on to find out!

1. It's Super Long
It's 150 minutes long. That's really long. And there are long sections of "Exodus: Gods and Kings" that simply drag. So just know, going in, that you're going to be there for a good long while and that not a lot of exciting things happen.

2. Christian Bale Is Pretty Intense
Bale, as Moses, is his typically intense self. He's channeling the same kind of raw fury that made his portrayals of everyone from Batman to Patrick Bateman so captivating. But watching "Exodus: Gods and Kings," you also can't help but be struck by the fact that just a year ago, Bale was in another hotly hyped December release, and he was actually fun in that movie. It would be nice if he could take a couple of movies off from being so full of rage, considering how loose and warm and human his performance in "American Hustle" really was.

3. It's Not That God-y
While the movie certainly gives lip service to fate and destiny, there's very little actual religiosity in "Exodus: Gods and Kings." It's more of an ethnicity thing, in terms of the separation between the Egyptians and the Hebrews, and the big G-O-D is referenced only in a weird personification (he's visualized as a small child who communicates directly with Moses). So if you're worried that you will have a bunch of Sunday school platitudes shoved down your throat, don't worry. It doesn't happen. There are much cooler things to get to.

4. The Plagues Are Super Cool
When "Exodus: Gods and Kings" was first announced, one thing became very clear: Ridley Scott, the visionary director of "Blade Runner" and "Alien," would visualize the plagues in a really, really cool way. And, truth be told, the plagues are the coolest, most emotionally gripping section of this movie. He realizes the plagues beautifully, with wonderful, witty twists on the biblical maladies. It's another attempt to place a pseudo-scientific spin on the mystical weirdness that the bible is filled with. And it's pretty successful, showcasing some truly wonderful visual effects and the kind of crackerjack storytelling that Scott is known for.

5. 'Noah' Was Better
Earlier this year, Darren Aronofsky unleashed "Noah," a controversial biblical tale of roughly the same size and scale. The thing is that "Noah" is a much better movie; Russell Crowe's performance is tighter and more focused than Bale's work and the movie itself feels more personal and way, way weirder. Scott takes a more mainstream approach, which is well and good, but it ends up being kind of wishy washy in the end. Aronofsky's film takes a definitive approach and goes nuts with it.

6. This Is Not One of Scott's Better Movies
Ridley Scott is a visionary. Nobody is denying that. The majestic worlds that he conjured forth in "Blade Runner" and "Alien" and "Gladiator" and even last year's gleefully bizarre "Counselor" cannot be overstated. But he's also had a number of sizable flops, like "1492: Conquest for Paradise" and "G.I. Jane." "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is more in line with those lesser movies. It is certainly huge and impressively choreographed. But it also feels limp and lifeless. He's always good at injecting genuine humanity into giant, lumbering machines (sometimes literally). "Exodus: Gods and Kings" doesn't have enough soul.

7. Aaron Paul Has One Line of Dialogue
Aaron Paul plays Joshua. His character is basically reduced to reacting when he watches Moses communicating with (to him) an invisible person. He goes along with the exodus (of course) and takes part in the pilgrimage. But he has one line of dialogue. I know because I wrote it down. The award-winning co-lead, in a $140 million studio movie, gets to say, "We should rest." Amazing, I know.

8. The Supporting Cast Is Bizarre
How's this for a supporting cast -- beyond Edgerton and Aaron Paul and Bale, the cast consists of Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, and Ben Mendelsohn. That isn't a cast. That's an edition of Hollywood Mad Libs. None of it works, exactly, with most of the actors either entirely wasted or relegated to such minor roles that they barely register (even know I'm hard-pressed to remember who Kingsley played). As a character in the movie says, "This doesn't even make any sense."

9. Heston's Parting of the Red Sea Is Still Better
Again, with the pseudo-scientific explanations, Scott surmised that the actual historic parting of the Red Sea was not a magically godly act but rather a weird atmospheric occurrence involving a tsunami and some such. And it's certainly cool, but doesn't strike the tone of majestic awe that the same sequence did in "The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston. (The less said about DreamWorks Animation's version of the story the better.) Just know that just because computers have made things more realistic, doesn't mean that they're more dazzling.

10. This Is the Second Ridley Scott Movie in a Row With Cheetahs
There were, quite memorably, cheetahs in Scott's last movie, "The Counselor." There are cheetahs here. Was there a cheetah in "Prometheus" somewhere? Maybe in a flashback or a weird hologram? Because if so, somebody's got to check Ridley Scott out. The man might be suffering from cheetah fever.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
PG-132014
Based on 42 critics

Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses learns of his Israelite heritage and frees his enslaved people. Read More

categories Movies, Reviews