Ridley Scott's recent filmography reeks of desperation. Efforts to top his Oscar-winning hit Gladiator continue to fall flat, whilst fans of Alien were left cold by 2012's messy prequel, Prometheus.
The fact that every trailer for an upcoming Scott feature never ceases to remind us that it comes 'from the director of Gladiator' speaks volumes. Nothing borne of his direction has come close to the high bar set by Maximus Decimus Meridius's quest for revenge, and Exodus: Gods and Kings continues that trend.
Exodus marks another attempt by Scott to take an established story and adapt it into an epic spectacle, much in the same way he turned the modest tale of Robin Hood into a gritty, soulless war drama. This time it's the clash between Moses (Christian Bale) and brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton), which - whilst not short on spectacle - has been transformed into a loud and exhausting romp with about as much nuance as a bull in a china shop.
Parallels can certainly be drawn with Darren Aronofsky's Noah, another biblical epic from earlier this year. Both served up stories that audiences are familiar with, and did little to set themselves apart from their forebears besides a heavy dose of digital wizardry. It's representative of the sad reality within Hollywood that screenwriters are out of ideas, instead relying on adaptations and retellings of established material.
Having said that, Exodus doesn't do a particularly great job of telling Moses' story. It certainly doesn't hold a candle to The Ten Commandments, or even The Prince of Egypt, which is astonishing considering the hulking 150 minute runtime it has to work with.
Indeed, there's nothing particularly memorable about Exodus' version of events other than a supremely impressive depiction of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. It's fair to say that if Scott needed to get anything right it was the plagues and the Red Sea, but those moments aren't enough to detract from what is otherwise a film steeped in dullness.
Aforementioned attempts to top Gladiator have actually been taken far too literally here, with an opening quarter that feels eerily similar in its construction. Moses is a superior warrior and prospective leader than his brother, and is favoured by their father Seti (John Tutorro) despite being his adopted son. Ramses, though, does become Pharaoh upon their father's death, and eventually exiles Moses when his Hebrew heritage becomes apparent.
Bale is then given the familiar task of seeing his character into exile, growing out his beard and becoming disconnected from his life of privilege. He also wears an outrageous among of eye liner, as if he's removed his Batman garb and forgotten to wash his face.
Moses' adaption to life in an unassuming village and subsequent marriage is given an almost hilariously brief allotment of screen time, with him quickly presented with visions of God urging him to return to Gotham - sorry, Memphis - and free the Hebrews from Ramses' enslavement.
This rise and fall is a character archetype seen more often in cinema these days than Benedict Cumberbatch, and it's becoming tiresome. When the film does threaten to challenge this preconceived notion it drops it almost instantly, leaving us to accept whatever needs to occur in order for the action to start.
Once Exodus does away with the idea of character development and places the focus solely on spectacle, it does prompt the film's best moments, but also makes the prior hour or so alongside Moses seem all the more meaningless.
It's actually quite unfortunate because Bale's performance is deserving of something more substantial. He delivers his lines with plenty of gravitas and has terrific screen presence, but it's all a bit generic. Edgerton's Ramses is given even less to work with, and the lack of groundwork afforded to his character makes it hard to care when the plagues come to have their inevitable impact on his family.
Other talent on show includes Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver, all of whom are completely wasted. Kingsley's character, Nun, offers 'profound' guidance and advice to Moses, none of which you'll care to remember, whilst Paul and Weaver hardly utter ten lines of dialogue between them.
Scott has been criticised for casting white, Western actors in Middle Eastern roles, and on the evidence provided here it's impossible to argue that any of the supporting cast provide more than actors from the appropriate ethnic backgrounds would have done.
Perhaps if Paul had been afforded an opportunity to call Ramses his bitch, a case for his rightful inclusion could have been made.
As it is, Exodus is the perfect embodiment of just how risk-averse Hollywood - and Scott - has become in everything from narrative to casting. It's somewhat depressing to see how the director of such genre-defining classics as Alien and Blade Runner has become so enveloped in the bland blockbuster production line.
Whilst not quite dull enough to spark an exodus among the audience, Scott's latest is utterly exhausting. There's plenty of spectacle and some truly impressive visuals, but Exodus fails to put an interesting spin on a story that most of us already know, and that makes it hard to recommend.