Blade Runner 2049 is as Good as Belated Sequels Get

Confession time: the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, I didn’t much care for it. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

This could be because I saw it on TV and it was probably edited to some extent. This could also be because the version I saw was the original theatrical version, which most fans of the film agree to be inferior to later versions. But I think the most likely reason of all was that it did not conform to my expectations. I expected a rollicking, action-packed thrill ride. What I got instead was a dark, moody, slow-burning sci-fi noir. It wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now. Scott’s Blade Runner is a stone-cold classic and has been hugely influential on generations of filmmakers and writers.

The idea of a sequel coming out some 35 years after the release of the original film could lead to understandable skepticism. We all know what happened with that last Indiana Jones movie, after all. But I am happy to say that the new film, Blade Runner 2049, is an excellent sequel. People have called it one of the best sequels ever made, and it’s hard to disagree.

Image: Warner Bros.

The new movie was directed by the brilliant French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. I haven’t seen all of his films, but the ones I have seen (Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival) were all excellent. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, and he has delivered another near-masterpiece with Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve’s film stays true to Scott’s beloved original in tone, style, and content. The cinematographer was the great Roger Deakins, and the movie looks amazing. It brilliantly recaptures the iconic look of the original movie while also providing new environments and landscapes that fit right in with the world these films have created. If Deakins doesn’t finally win an Oscar for his work on this film, then the Academy Awards are officially Dead To Me.


Image: Warner Bros.

But aside from the eye-popping visuals, the film is rich in ideas and emotion. One of the main questions the original film presented was: what does it mean to be human? If it becomes possible to one day create synthetic beings so lifelike they’re virtually indistinguishable from real people, who’s to say those synthetic beings aren’t human? HBO’s Westworld recently pondered similar questions, and they’re as relevant and intriguing now as they were when the first movie was released in 1982.

Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to the world he helped create, although (this could be considered a minor spoiler) he doesn’t actually appear in the new movie until it is more than half over. Most of the movie rests on the shoulders of Ryan Gosling, and he is more than up to the task of carrying the film. Gosling’s performance here is superb and absolutely Oscar-worthy.


Image: Warner Bros.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick recap. The original movie took place in 2019, and followed Ford’s character Rick Deckard as he attempted to track down four rogue replicants. Replicants were created by the Tyrell Corporation to serve as off-world slave labor, but after a series of violent rebellions, they became outlawed. Blade Runners such as Deckard were cops who specialized in tracking down and “retiring” replicants.

Gosling’s character, known simply as K for most of the movie, is a Blade Runner hunting down replicants in 2049, thirty years after the events of the original film. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, since I really want to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that K’s background is complex and is an integral part of the film’s plot. It becomes necessary for him to track down Deckard, who hasn’t been seen for thirty years. When we do finally meet Deckard, he’s tired and worn out. It’s some of the best acting Ford has done in recent years. He does a great job capturing Deckard’s cynicism and world-weariness, and is soulful and sympathetic.


Image: Warner Bros.

In addition to Deckard and K, the rest of the characters are equally fascinating. Robin Wright plays K’s no-bullshit boss Lieutenant Joshi, Jared Leto plays a creepy evil industrialist named Niander Wallace (who now owns the company that makes replicants and has made a fortune producing a new, more obedient series of replicants), and an actress named Sylvia Hoeks plays Wallace’s main henchwoman, disarmingly named Luv. Despite her name, she is not to be messed with, and provides a fierce adversary for K as he attempts to locate Deckard.

There’s also the lovely Cuban actress Ana de Armas as a character named Joi (pronounced like the word joy), who is, for lack of a better word, K’s companion. No, not that kind of companion. She offers him support and guidance despite, let’s just say, not being entirely human. I found the relationship between K and Joi to be quite fascinating, and genuinely moving at times.

There’s a lot more I could say about the plot, but I’m not going to because this is a movie you should experience for yourself. I will say that I loved the film’s plot. The filmmakers did an incredible job of telling a story that feels like a logical evolution of the original film, instead of just a flimsy excuse to make another movie and make more money. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie made with immense care and attention to detail. It feels completely faithful to the original.

I wouldn’t call either Blade Runner movie an action movie. Both movies are deliberately paced, and while there are fights and chases, the emphasis isn’t on the action scenes. Both films have a long way to go and are in no particular hurry to get there. The new movie is nearly three hours long, but it didn’t feel that long to me. It immediately sweeps the viewer up into the vivid world it creates, and it’s the kind of world that is thrilling to explore, but you probably wouldn’t want to live in it.

Every aspect of this movie is Oscar-worthy, from the production design to the writing to the acting to the directing to the special effects to the cinematography. Every one of those things from the first movie became iconic, and it’s easy to see the same thing happening with the new movie. Denis Villeneuve and his team did an incredible job crafting this film, and they have made Blade Runner 2049 every bit as emotionally resonant and thematically rich as its esteemed predecessor, which is no small feat.

Coming up next, in The Foreigner Jackie Chan will show us that it doesn’t matter if you’re in your sixties, you can still kick ass.

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Alien: Covenant – Slimy Aliens and Multiple Fassbenders

Alien: Covenant is a tricky film to write about. It seems like every review I read spoiled vast swathes of the film’s plot, which ticked me off to no end because the details of the film’s plot were kept mostly under wraps in the time leading up to its release, and to see reviewers casually giving away huge plot points struck me as flippant and disrespectful to people who want to go into the movie knowing as little as possible. In response to this, I am going to give away as little as possible. I will describe basic details of the film’s setup, which could be considered to have some minor spoilers, but I won’t reveal any major plot points.

Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott’s follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus, his previous foray into the Alien franchise he started in 1979 with the original Alien film. Prometheus was a controversial movie among fans of the franchise. Some people loved it, others passionately hated it. I liked it overall, even though it was profoundly flawed in some areas. Fortunately, Scott and his screenwriters seem to have listened to people’s criticisms about Prometheus, and Covenant delivers a tighter, more contained story that answers some of the lingering questions from Prometheus while still leaving room for interpretation and further entries in the franchise.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Let me just say that this movie has a whopper of an ending, which I loved. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but man, it’s a doozy. It provides closure to the film while paving the way for future sequels, which Scott says are coming. God bless the man, he’s nearly 80 years old and is still making smart, intense, gorgeous-looking sci-fi movies. Scott has said he wants to start filming the next one in 2018, so expect more slimy alien horrors in the future. Oh joy!

Covenant follows the doomed crew of the spaceship Covenant, on a colonization mission to a distant, habitable planet. En route, they pick up a transmission from a closer planet, which also appears habitable. It’s risky, but they decide to investigate. Very Bad Things happen to them. That’s all I will say about the plot.

One thing that frustrated audiences about Prometheus was that it never fully committed to being an Alien movie. Was it an Alien movie or wasn’t it? Scott and his screenwriters couldn’t seem to decide. Alien: Covenant, as befitting its title, is definitely an Alien movie. The titular aliens, the terrifying xenomorphs (although they aren’t called that in this film), are very much present, and they are terrifying.

Everything about xenomorphs scares me. Not only how they look, which is scary enough, but what they do to you is just upsetting, and sets them apart from other famous horror-movie antagonists. Sure, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers will kill you, but a quick knifing or decapitation-via-machete is vastly preferable to the protracted, painful, humiliating ordeal a xenomorph will put you through.

It’s a testament to how good H.R. Giger’s original design of these aliens was when you realize how little their appearance has changed over the years. The xenomorphs in this film were created with motion-capture and CGI rather than the practical effects of the earlier films, which may annoy some hardcore fans of the franchise, but when the aliens look as good as they do in this film, the CGI doesn’t bother me. The slithery, hissing monstrosities are as frightening as ever.

Image: 20th Century Fox

And they are taking no prisoners. Covenant is a far more graphic film than Prometheus, which is saying something when you consider that Prometheus is a film in which the main character had an alien slug monster surgically removed from her abdomen. This movie is so bloody that at one point people actually slip and fall in the pools of viscera on the floor. Sir Ridley’s not messing around with this one, folks.

But what of the humans who have these graphic horrors inflicted upon them? I found them to be more likable than the buffoons from Prometheus. I didn’t hate every character in that movie, but they did do some really stupid things, and Covenant has less groan-inducing characters. There are a couple of moments where you think “DON’T DO THAT YOU IDIOT” but the same could be said of any scary movie. The scene-stealer is Michael Fassbender, who, without revealing too much, plays two roles, and in some scenes acts with himself. Fassbender gives both of his characters distinctive voices and body language, so the viewer can distinguish between the two of them…most of the time.

The rest of the cast is also good. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, the main character, and she’s very likable even if her character isn’t as fierce as Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ellen Ripley. I admire Waterston for having the courage to take the role and make it her own while knowing that she would inevitably be compared to Ripley, one of the greatest sci-fi protagonists of all time, male or female.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Alien: Covenant is a great-looking film. I’ve already talked about how good the creatures look, but the environments are also stunning, both on the Covenant in space and on the ground on the mysterious hostile planet. Ridley Scott has been directing movies for about five decades, and he knows how to make every shot in his films feel unique and give the viewer something new to look at. The movie does have one of the same issues the Star Wars sequels had, in that the technology in the film appears much more advanced than the technology in the original films, even though the new films are prequels that take place chronologically before the originals. It’s not a huge issue, but it is noticeable in comparison to the original movies.

Alien: Covenant is not a perfect film, but I think it’s an improvement over Prometheus. Covenant suffers from a few similar issues that plagued its predecessor, but to a lesser extent. It delivers the gore and the heart-pounding intensity that fans have come to expect from the series, and it’s a worthy entry to the Alien franchise.

Mark Watney is My Hero

If you were, quite literally, left alone on a desert planet, how would you react? Chances are pretty good that it would be a tough pill to swallow, to put it mildly.

Well, not if you’re Mark Watney, the hero of Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian. Mark is an astronaut who gets left behind by his crewmates after they lose contact with him during a severe storm on Mars and he is presumed dead.

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But he’s not.

When faced with the daunting proposition of having to survive on an inhospitable planet all by himself, Mark makes a resolution: “I am not going to die here.” And so begins his epic journey to survive against all odds. In order to survive, he’ll have to figure out how to grow food on a planet where nothing grows, and reestablish contact with Earth after most of his equipment was damaged in the storm.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that he does succeed in contacting Earth, since the scenes set on Earth comprise a good portion of the film’s running time. And also that he is now the most famous Martian ever, aside from maybe this one:

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Love that guy. But anyway, in the movie Mars is where the real action’s at, and every time it switches back to Earth I wanted it to go back to Mars. This is not to say that the Earth scenes are bad, or unnecessary. To me, they just weren’t quite as much fun as the Mars scenes.

But like I said, the Earth scenes aren’t bad at all, and they’re all vital to the plot of the movie. It also helps that the film features an expansive cast, and seemingly every major role is played by a likable and well-known actor. You’ve probably heard of some of these folks: Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and many others. All of these actors are great, and it’s always nice to see so many talented people on screen.

But of course the real star is Matt Damon, who plays the brilliant, smartass Mark Watney to absolute perfection. He’s a joy to watch, which is even more impressive considering that he’s by himself for 95% of the time he’s on screen, and, being the film’s star and all, he’s on screen quite a lot.

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The Martian ends up being a stirring tribute to good old-fashioned human ingenuity and perseverance, with Matt Damon as Watney at its core. The film could easily have been a total downer, but thanks to Mark Watney and his awesome, goofy personality, it’s actually quite a bit of fun.

Which isn’t to say that the film doesn’t deliver on the nail-biting tension, because it does. I was holding my breath for the last half-hour of this movie. Really, the entire movie is a balancing act that could have gone spectacularly wrong at any point in its execution, but it didn’t.

The film is faithfully adapted from the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, who self-published the book before it was picked up by a publisher. The screenplay was written by Drew Goddard, who directed The Cabin in the Woods (a fun, scary movie I recommended a few Halloweens ago), and Goddard’s script does a great job capturing Watney’s smartass personality.

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The script also does a great job conveying the scientific aspects of the story. The book is very science-heavy, and it has to be so that readers will be able to follow what Watney is trying to do. The film does a great job conveying this without drowning the audience in exposition. It’s always clear what Watney and the folks back on Earth are doing, and the movie is never confusing, which makes a big difference.

The Martian is also a very funny movie, much of which is due to Matt Damon, and there’s a very funny running joke about the awful disco music Watney is forced to listen to, because it’s the only music he has. The rest of the cast also gets some funny moments (there’s a very funny scene in which Elrond and the Lord of the Rings are discussed, while Sean Bean is sitting at a table, quietly not saying anything).

Other recent space movies like Gravity and Interstellar are incredibly tense and frequently harrowing, but they’re not as much fun as The Martian. Gravity and Interstellar aren’t bad movies at all, but given the choice between The Martian and either of those two films, I’d pick The Martian.

It’s also a great-looking movie. I don’t know where the Mars scenes were filmed, but there’s a stark beauty to the Martian landscapes, and the scenes set in space itself also look great. For the most part the movie is faithfully adapted from the source novel, with a few slight alterations or additions here and there. The ending has been beefed-up a bit to heighten the tension, and the movie also adds a lovely little scene at the very end (which was not present in the book) that shows you what the main characters did after the film’s climax. I won’t spoil anything, but the movie’s ending just leaves you feeling really good.

It’s a surprisingly funny and uplifting movie, and by the time “I Will Survive” starts playing over the end credits, it would be hard not to have a smile on your face. I certainly did.

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I saw The Martian in 3D, which was cool at first but the novelty wore off fairly quickly. What is interesting to me as I’ve thought about it afterwards is that my feelings about the 3D being lackluster aren’t really due to anything the movie itself does. The problem is that my eyes just get used to the 3D effect after a while, and I just kind of stop noticing it. It’s not the movie’s fault that, in my opinion at least, 3D doesn’t add much to the experience of the movie.

That was a bit of a tangent, but the 3D didn’t make me enjoy the film any less. It may not have added much, but it didn’t take anything away either, so I guess I can’t complain too much. The Martian is a great movie regardless of how many dimensions you see it in, and you don’t have to be a hardcore sci-fi or science nerd to enjoy it. Not only is it easily Ridley Scott’s best film in years, it’s also a movie that will leave you feeling good about the human race, which is a feeling we could all use a lot more of these days.

The Curse of the Misleading Trailer

How many times have you seen a really good movie trailer, only to be let down by the actual movie?

The problem is that the purpose of a movie’s trailer is to sell the audience on the movie. It is not necessarily intended to accurately represent the movie.

This can be a problem because it can affect what you actually think of the movie itself. It’s really too bad when the trailer kills the movie, but in some cases it’s hard to think of how it could have turned out otherwise.

Take, for example, three recent would-be swords-and-sandals epics. The movies I’m going to be talking about to illustrate this point are Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur, Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, and Brett Ratner’s 2014 Hercules.

Let’s start at the beginning. Fuqua’s King Arthur has virtually nothing to do with the legend of King Arthur as most people are familiar with it. There is no sword in the stone, no quest for the Holy Grail, no love story between Lancelot and Guinevere, no Morgan le Fay, no Mordred, none of that.

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This isn’t automatically a problem, mind you. I don’t mind people putting a new spin on a familiar story. The problem with all three of these films is that their trailers and titles all promise things that the movies themselves fail to deliver, even though the movies aren’t necessarily all that bad (another good title for this post would have been The Curse of the Misleading Title, but I thought The Curse of the Misleading Trailer had a better ring to it).

When you hear the phrase “King Arthur,” what are some of the first things you think of? Chances are they include some of the things I mentioned above. It’s somewhat galling that a movie called King Arthur has almost nothing to do with the King Arthur stories that most people are familiar with. I don’t even think Arthur is a king for most of the movie. Merlin is just some forest wizard who does almost nothing, Lancelot freaking dies at the end of the movie and has almost no relationship with Guinevere, the list goes on and on.

The thing is that Fuqua’s film isn’t necessarily all that bad, but it most certainly does not live up to its title. Maybe it would be slightly easier to take if it had been called something different, but this leads to my second point: what the hell else were the filmmakers supposed to call it? It’s a swords-and-sandals epic about a dude named Arthur and his pals, some of whom just so happen to be named Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin, Galahad, and so on. So sure, call the movie King Arthur and that ought to put asses in seats. The obvious problem is that you’re setting yourself up for a fall when you (rather brazenly, in the case of King Arthur, since the movie claims to be a true story and, you know, isn’t) don’t deliver on the audience’s expectations.

The same holds true for Ridley Scott’s 2010 version of Robin Hood. When you hear “Robin Hood,” what do you think of? Robbing the rich to give to the poor, duh. Guess how much of that there is in Scott’s film? Yep, you guessed it: virtually none.

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Instead, the movie is an origin story, telling how Robin, Marion, Little John, etc. all came to be living in Sherwood Forest and hunted by famous douchebag King John. The original script of Scott’s film actually began with the title Nottingham, and portrayed a more sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham as the main protagonist. From what I’ve read about it, the script portrayed the Sheriff of Nottingham as a CSI-style forensics investigator, torn between his duty to serve the king (who was corrupt) and his sympathies for the outlaw he was supposed to catch.

I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a hell of a good movie right there. Unfortunately, Ridley Scott himself apparently didn’t think so, and filming was delayed while the script was rewritten. It’s really too bad, because the resulting film’s story, while not terrible, is nowhere near as interesting.

Again, I wouldn’t call it a bad film, but it most certainly does not live up to the expectations its title and marketing suggest. But again, what else would (or should) the film have been called? Calling the film Robin Hood should put some asses in seats, but it’s hard to blame the people those asses belong to for leaving the theater unsatisfied.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? You should, because it continues with Brett Ratner’s Dwayne Johnson-starring Hercules, which was released last year.

Brett Ratner is kind of a sleaze (I mean, he does have the word “rat” in his name), who has one of the most punchable faces I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at this face. Don’t you just want to punch it after looking at it for more than two seconds?

the most punchable face in the universe

Gah, so punchable. I feel kind of bad for saying that I liked his film more than the previous two, (and it feels especially weird saying that I liked a Brett Ratner film more than a Ridley Scott film, that’s not something I ever thought I would find myself saying), but it’s true. Fuqua’s King Arthur and Scott’s Robin Hood are both so relentlessly dour (not to mention overlong) that, while I still don’t think they’re terrible, they aren’t always very much fun. Ratner’s film, at least, is more consistently entertaining. As Alfred so wisely told Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “Who knows? If you start pretending to have fun, you might even have a little by accident.”

So, here comes the first inevitable question. When I say “Hercules,” what do you think of? You probably think of the twelve labors, gods and monsters, that sort of thing. And here’s the second inevitable question: how much of these elements do you think Ratner’s film has? If you were to say “not very much,” then congratulations, you’re right.

Ratner’s Hercules is basically a mercenary with really good PR. He’s the guy who does all the hard jobs that no one else will do (although he doesn’t do them by himself, he’s the guy who gets all the credit for it), and he has a really good PR guy who spins tales of his legendary deeds.

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He becomes involved in a plot by a couple of douchey kings played by John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes, and the movie portrays him as a character separated from magic and mysticism. The whole point of the movie is that all of the things that people think of as being magical (centaurs, the hydra, and the like) turn out to be nothing but people (or just really mean animals, such as the Nemean Lion).

I kind of like this approach, to be honest. I love the idea of events becoming legends (such as in The Road Warrior) and Ratner’s Hercules taps into this. Not as well as The Road Warrior obviously, but the ideas are certainly there. The main problem with Hercules was the trailer, which hyped up the twelve labors of Hercules (such as the hydra and the Nemean Lion), and made it seem as if that was what the whole movie would be about.

But in the actual movie, all of those big trailer moments (the lion lunging at Hercules, chopping the heads off the Hydra) happen in the first five minutes, and are later revealed to not have been everything they were cracked up to be.

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but can you blame the people who may have left the theater unsatisfied? Not really. How else could the movie have been marketed? What else could it have been called? I dunno. The whole situation is a bit of a Catch-22.

It’s not that surprising that movie marketing is frequently misleading, advertisements are misleading all the time. There’s always a relationship between the consumer’s expectations of a product and the ability of that product to deliver on those expectations, and sometimes it skews dramatically one way or the other. Generally, when a product doesn’t do what it says it will do, it’s a bad product.

But it’s different with movies. A movie can maybe not fulfill all of your expectations, and yet you may still end up liking it to some degree. Such was the case for me, with all three of the films I’ve mentioned here.

So the next time you see a movie that wasn’t quite what you expected it to be, maybe try asking yourself: Okay, what did the movie do that I liked? Were there things about it that were really good that I wasn’t expecting?

I love movies, and I want other people to love them too. I guess that if there’s one thing writing this post has made clear to me, it’s that there is more than one way to like something, not just movies. So I guess what I’m saying is, try keeping an open mind and who knows, you just might end up surprising yourself.

What Do the Entrails Say?

Sometimes, there are warning signs. Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes into a film to let you know you’re in trouble.

In Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, that warning sign came less than five minutes into the film, when the pharaoh asks one of his advisers the soon-to-be-immortal question: “What do the entrails say?”

Yup. That line came less than five minutes into a 150-minute long film. I had to rewind it to make sure I had heard it correctly, which I had. And, just as the pharaoh’s adviser tells him, the entrails are unclear, but some stuff might happen that you won’t like very much. At this point (again, less than five minutes into a two and a half hour movie) I figured that that was a pretty good prediction as to what my feelings would be like about the movie as a whole: unclear, but definitely leaning towards the negative.

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Urgh. Exodus had all the ingredients to be good, so how did it go so spectacularly bad? Ridley Scott has been in a bit of a rut post-Gladiator, but he’s still an important filmmaker, and he has proven success directing historical epics. Christian Bale is widely acknowledged to be one of the best actors around. The movie tells a well-known Biblical story that most people, regardless of their religious views, are pretty familiar with. The cast also included Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver.

And yet, almost nothing in the movie works.

The story is a confusing mess.

The relationships between the characters are thin to nonexistent.

Sigourney Weaver has maybe three lines, all of which are delivered in a flat American accent, which sound totally out of place.

And, worst of all, the movie has no idea what so freaking ever what to do with God.

I just…it just…urgh. Look, the filmmakers made some choices in this film that were utterly baffling to me.

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Why, for example, would they choose to portray God as a, like, eight-year-old-child? Every time Moses (played by Bale, if you didn’t already know that) talks to God, he’s talking to a freaking little kid. I cannot fathom why the filmmakers thought this was a good idea. Literally anything would have been better. Have him talking to a disembodied voice. Have him talking to a ghostly figure of some sort. Have him talking to, I don’t know, a grown-up human being for crying out loud. But why in pluperfect hell would have him arguing with a child? And, even more inexplicably, why would you make it so that Moses is the only one who can see him, which results in scenes where Moses’ brother Aaron is spying on Moses, and it looks like Moses is just arguing with himself?

AND TO TOP IT ALL OFF, why would you make Moses and God have an antagonistic relationship with each other? I always thought that God worked through Moses, the movie makes them practically look like enemies. I get that people’s relationships with God are complicated. I get that. But making Moses and God enemies (maybe frenemies? I don’t even know) just makes no sense from a storytelling perspective.

Moses starts training the Israelites to become like this guerrilla army, and then Kid-God shows up and tells him he’s not doing enough, and that’s what starts the ten plagues. So all those scenes of Moses training his guerrilla army (which were meant to be all inspirational) add up to a whole lot of NOTHING.

The relationships between the characters are also incredibly poorly developed. Moses has almost no connection to anyone else in the movie. He has no reason to want to return to Egypt after his exile, aside from a few vague hints from Kid-God, and every time Moses says something about helping his “people,” or entreating them repeatedly that “God is with us,” it just rings absolutely hollow. The Israelites have no reason to follow him, and he has no reason to want them to.

And he has almost no relationship with either Joshua or Aaron, both important Biblical figures. It’s only even mentioned in passing that Moses and Aaron are brothers. I didn’t even know which person was Aaron and which was Joshua! There were these two guys I knew were Aaron and Joshua, but I could never tell which was which, and with the miniscule amount of character development either of them had they might as well have been the same person anyway.

None of this, in my opinion, is the fault of Christian Bale. Bale is an extremely expressive actor, capable of conveying worlds of meaning with just a look from his eyes. He does what he can with an extremely underwritten character, and while I did like Moses individually, it was not enough for me to care about the rest of the characters in the movie, since he has so little connection to any of them.

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The movie looks great, I can give it that. The sets, costumes, and special effects are all top-notch, and I especially liked the very cool-looking swords that Moses and Ramses use. You can tell that some serious money went into making this film, and, visually at least, it shows. The movie looks fantastic, and the scenes depicting the ten plagues are intense and frightening, and kinda gross. Oddly, by my count the movie only showed nine plagues, though I looked that up and the only one the movie leaves out is lice, and to be honest I forgot that lice were one of the ten plagues, so I guess I can kind of give them a pass for that.

Then again, no. No, I can’t. There were ten plagues of Egypt and the movie only shows nine. No pass for you, movie. The movie has four (credited) screenwriters, and apparently none of them can count.

Look, Hollywood. I appreciate the gesture, but seriously: you’re doing it wrong. For further proof, look at Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which was also released last year. In addition to being the year of Scarlett Johansson, 2014 was also supposed to be the Year of the Biblical Epic. But after having seen both Exodus and Noah, I can officially say that it was the Year of the Severely Underwhelming Biblical Epic.

I disliked Noah even more than I disliked Exodus, which as you can probably tell is really saying something. I don’t really have all that much to say about Noah, except it suffered from a lot of the same problems as Exodus: weak characterization, muddled story, baffling storytelling decisions.

Oh, and for some reason, it was full of Rock Transformers.

noah rock transformers

Wait, what? I didn’t think this Biblical epic was directed by Michael Bay. Noah is full of these weird creatures called Watchers that were supposed to be fallen angels, but I kept thinking of them as Rock Transformers because they looked like Transformers made out of rocks. One of them is even voiced by Nick Nolte of all people, and let me just say that Nick freaking Nolte is the absolute last person in the universe that I would ever expect to play an angel in a movie. A demon, sure (he certainly sounds like one), but an angel? Hell no!

noah watchers

Tellingly, the Rock Transformers did not appear in ANY of the trailers or marketing for the movie. The marketing team must have thought, “Hey, what the hell are these Michael Bay rejects doing in this Biblical movie? Eh, I dunno, just leave them out of the trailers, nobody will notice.”

The main problem with the movie Noah is that the Biblical story of Noah is pretty straightforward. The Biblical story of Exodus is more detailed, but Noah’s story really isn’t. God tells Noah to build the ark and put two of every animal on it. Noah does so, God destroys the world with a flood, the animals on the ark and Noah and his family survive. That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell. But, of course, that’s not enough for a full-length movie, so the filmmakers embellished quite a bit. And all of their embellishments, to me, felt like really weak attempts to add drama to the story, and half of them just don’t make any sense.

noah SUPER BOAT

How else do you explain Noah’s behavior in the last hour of the movie? For some utterly inexplicable reason, Noah spends most of the movie thinking that mankind is supposed to die off, so he spends most of the last hour of the movie trying to murder pregnant Emma Watson.

noah true story

I, it, just, WHAT??? Why is Noah a slasher-movie villain for the whole third act of the movie??? It’s just baffling. And then at the end of the movie, Noah gets blackout drunk and his kids find him passed out naked on the beach. And this guy is supposed to be the hero of this story?

Both Noah and Exodus do have a couple of specific scenes that I liked. The parting of the Red Sea sequence in Exodus is an exciting setpiece, and I liked the scenes in Noah that showed the animals coming on to the ark.

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They’re both great-looking movies, but the visuals aren’t enough to hide the emptiness that lies within both of these big-budget films. One of the reviews I read online said that Exodus was like a chocolate cake filled with sawdust, which I thought was a perfect metaphor: looks great, empty on the inside.

Look, I’m not a person who bases their system of beliefs on Hollywood movies. I don’t dislike these movies because they don’t exactly align with my own beliefs. I dislike them because their storytelling is muddled, the characterizations range from thin to nonexistent to downright baffling, and neither one of them has the slightest idea what to do with God.

exodus snark

What do the entrails say? It’s unclear, but it’s not looking good.