By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “Let my people go!”

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We’ve always interpreted that utterance and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt as described in the Old Testament book of Exodus as one man’s daring and successful attempt to stand up to a powerful empire.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

In the Biblically inspired epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, that leader, Moses, the prophet played by Christian Bale, discovers that, although raised as the son of an Egyptian pharaoh, he is of Hebrew descent.

God speaks to Moses through a burning bush (in a scene that allows itself to be interpreted, if one is so inclined, as a vision or a hallucination) and tells him that it is his fate to guide his people out from under Egyptian rule.

So he defies Moses’ stepbrother, the ruling Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, played by Joel Edgerton, and leads hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves on a monumental journey, with Ramses in close pursuit, as an escape from enslavement in Egypt, currently but not coincidentally suffering through a terrifying cycle of deadly plagues including epidemics of frogs, flies, boils, locusts, and darkness.

Accomplished veteran director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Prometheus) sees the narrative as an action-adventure drama, treating bizarre occurrences as realistically and scientifically as possible.

So he reimagines the indelible Biblical events as having natural causes –- for example, offering receding water as a prelude to a tsunami as an explanation for the parting of the Red Sea.

Not that the miraculous doesn’t enter in as well.

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Scott (dedicating the movie to his late brother and fellow filmmaker Tony) has always been a visual stylist, and he outdoes himself in that regard with the astonishing computer-generated visual effects of this arresting, immensely-scaled spectacle making up for any dramatic limitations in what is perhaps an overly familiar story.

Exodus: Gods and Kings works best as sheer action spectacle, with vast battle scenes that not only impress but thrill. How emotionally engaging they are, however, is another story, because Scott’s focus is so obviously on the razzle-dazzle set pieces rather than the human story that flows through them.

Bale is not only intense but naturally and especially charismatic in the flawed-hero role, showing us Moses’ ambivalence and explosiveness as well as his intelligence, and Edgerton is a splendid foil as his jealous stepbrother and the oppressive ruler whom the Hebrews need to get out from under.

The controversial casting of white performers for commercial reasons notwithstanding, the supporting cast –- led by Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and John Turturro –- is collectively effective.

As for the screenplay by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zaillian, it seems shaped by committee to play to the visual predilections of the director, which proves to be both strength and weakness, and it avoids the kind of right-and-wrong preachiness we sometimes expect in any faith-based movie.

So we’ll flee from 2½ stars out of 4 for the visually splendiferous Exodus: Gods and Kings, highlighted by director Ridley Scott’s cast-of-thousands (Holy Moses!) action scenes.

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