RIDLEY SCOTT should just make another horror movie. You can tell he really wants to—he's inserted a 20-minute-long one in the middle of his new epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a sequence in which God sends a series of CGI plagues upon Egypt because they've enslaved His chosen people, the Hebrews. It's visceral, surreal, and terrifying, a reminder of the best moments in Scott's Alien. Angry crocodiles leap out of the Nile, bloody fish befoul the riverbanks, swarms of flies and locusts infest the Egyptian palaces and markets. Then, perhaps most frightening of all, as the slaves paint their doorways with protective lamb's blood, God sends an invisible mist that murders all of Egypt's non-Hebrew babies.
That dark, unnerving stretch is the best thing by far in Exodus: Gods and Kings, which otherwise is a pretty by-the-numbers biblical epic whose only points of controversy are its chiefly white cast (very problematic) and the perhaps blasphemous interpretation of Moses' parting of the Red Sea as a tsunami. Otherwise, it's a big, loud, pompous retelling of a very familiar—and, really, inherently creepy—story. The movie's not quite strange enough to be chilling, and it's not campy enough to be fun.
Christian Bale utters a few Batman growls as Moses, and Joel Edgerton is the guylinered Ramses, the pharaoh who starts the film as Moses' foster brother and ends as his mortal enemy. Mostly, Exodus feels like wasted potential: As Moses argues with God—here taking the form of a small British boy that only he can see—it's hard not to think of how Scorsese depicted Jesus' internal conflict The Last Temptation of Christ, or the madness that overcomes Klaus Kinski in Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Scott could have said something really interesting about Moses' dictatorial leadership and the horror of these Old Testament tales. Instead, he's ladeled out another CGI-enhanced reminder of how irrelevant these old Bible stories have become.