ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the latest film releases, including Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Ben Stiller-fronted Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg high seas adventure Kon-Tiki
Exodus: Gods and Kings (12A)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro
Star rating: * *
“The truth is it’s not even that great a story,” growls Christian Bale’s Moses when confronted with the already mythologised tale of his discovery in the bulrushes on the River Nile. Ridley Scott would appear to agree. Dispensing with the prophetic nonsense surrounding baby Moses in a single conversation in Exodus: Gods and Kings, he seems determined to bring a bit of real-world credibility to the period of crisis the hitherto faithless prophet confronts after the whole burning bush/meeting God incident convinces him to free the Hebrew slaves from their Pharaoh master.
A crisis of rationality rather than faith is the general theme here – and Scott approaches this Old Testament tale of unjust enslavement, pestilence-ridden retribution and hydrological anomalies with a seriousness of purpose that’s initially quite admirable. Alas, where Darren Aronofsky embraced the craziness of Noah and succeeded in making something barmy and brilliant, Scott’s uber-slick attempt to ground his own biblical epic eventually comes across as po-faced. Scene after scene of magnificent spectacle notwithstanding (and you do have to give Scott credit for making this stuff look so easy), Exodus is let down – as Scott’s films often are – at the human level. The big ideas – about religion and faith, progress and economics, freedom and exploitation – are badly elucidated with ropey concepts, honking dialogue and supporting performances as ripe as week-old camembert.
Bale may succeed in bringing the sort of psychological edge to Moses’ transformation that made his tortured take on Batman so compelling, but as his dark Israelite rises he’s surrounded by a bunch of panto villains in guyliner whose collective presence induces snorts of derision. Cast as Ramses, the vainglorious adoptive brother of Moses, a shaven-headed Joel Edgerton looks like the villain from Mad Max 2 en route to a toga party. John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver hardly fare any better as his despotic parents: they look like they’re on a staff night out from some hideous Egyptian-themed Vegas hotel. (Weaver – reuniting with Scott for the first time since Alien – is particularly underserved by a role that requires her to mill around in the background delivering the occasional spot of exposition.)
As such, Scott’s decision to use a spray-tanned Western cast seems increasingly hard to justify. Bale’s above-the-title box-office cache might have been necessary to secure the budget in the same way that Charlton Heston’s was half a century ago when Cecil B DeMille was making these kinds of films. But where exactly is the value in casting a laughably bad Ewen Bremner as a Scots-accented Egyptian? Or having Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul on hand to hang around in the background?
Conceptually the film also wobbles by casting God in the guise of a child – an intriguing idea on paper that unfortunately requires Bale to cower before a ten-year-old on screen. Exodus isn’t execrable in the way that The Counsellor was; it’s just another disappointingly so-so Scott production – more Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator.
Directed by: Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg
Starring: Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Bassamo Christiansen, Gustaf Skarsgård
Star rating: * * *
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 voyage across the Pacific on a man-made balsa wood raft was the source of an Oscar-winning documentary in 1950 and there’s something defiantly old-fashioned about this Oscar-nominated dramatisation of the same story. Thor’s (Pål Sverre Hagen) obsessive anthropological quest to prove Polynesia could have been settled from the Americas in the West may be a little light on psychological insights, but there’s fun to be had watching Thor’s crew of post-Second World War adventure-seekers navigating the 4,000-mile voyage through shark-infested waters with such primitive equipment. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg certainly seize the opportunity to deliver a spirited high seas adventure, taking some creative liberties along the way, but remaining true to the spirit of the times and the participants.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (PG)
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ben Stiller, Dan Stevens, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan
Star rating: * *
Cast as a deluded Sir Lancelot exhibit brought to life in the British Museum by a magic Egyptian tablet, a game Dan Stevens briefly enlivens this belated third instalment of the The Night at the Museum series (it’s been six years since the last one). Sadly that’s about the best that can be said about this send-off for an uber-bland family franchise that has never really embraced the anarchic spirit of its Toy Story-riffing high-concept. Ben Stiller returns as the night security guard fully cognisant of the exhibits’ after-hours shenanigans – and so too do the gags involving monkey slaps and monkey pee. That Stiller takes an additional role as a Neanderthal version of his character only makes the lack of genuine laughs doubly obvious, although by far the most groan-worthy moment arrives with a surprise cameo late on from a prominent star of a superhero franchise.