Dir. Timur Bekmambetov
Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)
“First to finish, last to die…”
The Romans eh? What have they ever given us cinematically? Well apart from Gladiator, Spartacus and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, plus maybe King Arthur if you’re a Kiera Knightley fan… And now we have updated remake of Ben-Hur, minus the religious sub title but with added sub-300 CGI this time.
Romans > Pumpkins
It was always going to be tough to follow up the classic 1959 Charlton Heston starring, multi-Oscar winning version of the ancient novel by Lew Wallace but cool action director Timur ‘Wanted’ Bekmambetoc gives it a go. Meet Judah Ben-Hur (Jack ‘Pride & Prejudice & Zombies’ Huston) a Jewish prince who loses everything when his adopted Roman brother Messala (Toby ‘Warcraft’ Kebbell), turns on his family. Sentenced to slavery on a galley in the Roman navy, Judah vows to one day get revenge. Revenge in the circus! Not the clowns and trapeze variety but the bloody chariot racing where death and dishonour dished out in an ancient Fast & Furious destruction derby race.
Feel the need for speed
Cue an hour of tame background and vaguely interesting character build up in which Jesus (Rodrigo ‘Xerxes from 300’ Santoro) pops up in various cameos – doing some woodwork, obviously, saying some peacemaking soundbites and helping people including Judah when he stumbles on en route to his slavery commission. Also in the mix is Pontius Pilate (Pilou ‘Lucy’ Asbæk), hhhmmmm, I wonder if his seemingly random encounters with Jesus will have any pay off down the line?
21 Pilates - are you not entertained?
Anyway, Judah’s unlikely ticket to vengeance comes when his path crosses chariot team trainer Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) who is willing to wager his fortune to give the wronged Jew a chance at racing his traitorous brother. Everything bar one exciting sea battle feels like padding, it’s the chariots of fire that is the selling point of this movie but it takes a while to get to.
Ahoy there for CGI
The good news is that Bekmambetov unleashes his action violence chops at the climactic chariot showdown, and for that 15 mins, Ben-Hur becomes an adrenalin overload of brutal racing excitement.
As a Christian, I found the religious elements well handled, sure they are a little overcooked but not massively distracting from the main narrative and Santoro's depiction of Jesus is solid (- a million miles away from his bloodthirsty 'man god' Xerxes in both the 300 movies, which at least shows he's got acting range!).
Antiques Roadshow - this week we're 'joined' by Jesus
Should you check out Ben - huh?
If you’re in the mood for a mostly gentle sandal-em-up which pays off big time at the end, this is a decent enough effort. The chariot race is especially effective in IMAX where you can almost feel the sand in your eyes!
Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:
(2.5 - Chariot salvation* for earnest historical retread)...
Awesomeness öööö – Love that ancient pod racing stand out scene
Laughs öö – Couple of laughs, not all intentional
Horror ööö – Actually has few grim moments which adds credibility
Spiritual Enlightenment öööö - Check that carpenter guy out!
Original and still best!