Let me begin this by asking you all a question; How many times are they gonna remake Ben-Hur? Of course, everyone knows about the 1959 classic with Charlton Heston as the title character. However, if you count the silent films, the made for tv films, the short films and even The Asylum’s ripoff, Ben-Hur (2016) marks the eighth adaptation of this story. So for a story told and retold so many times, how does the newest adaptation fair out? Well, you know that friend whose nice and means well but constantly messes his life up at every turn, resulting in you kind of hating him after awhile? No? That’s just me? Oh well, in any case, that’s this movie in a nutshell.
In Ben-Hur, we see our title character, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), and his relationship with his adopted brother, Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). Feeling unwelcome, Messala leaves home for many years and comes back a general for the roman army. Upon his return, through a series of circumstances, Judah is charged for attempting to assassinate Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk), an act he did not commit. Messala then gives the order to have Judah put into slavery and his family killed. After five years in hell, Judah pulls a Green Arrow and comes back home. Now he is out for vengeance and seeks it the only way he can; the arena. Oh, and there’s something about Jesus sprinkled in there too. For the record, I tried so hard not to make that Green Arrow joke and I just couldn’t resist. Am I forgiven? Ok, let’s move on.
Let’s just start off with the positives of this movie because, in all fairness, there are quite a few. First of all, the movie looks great. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am not a fan of Timur Bekmambetov’s style of directing. I hated Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an unforgivable dumpster fire of a film. However, I have to give him props here as his style feels more restrained this time around. The slave-ship sequence, as well as the chariot race, are both beautifully shot. Honestly, I would recommend maybe getting this film from RedBox in a few months if only to view those sequences. They look great and despite the PG-13 rating, there’s quite a bit of gore in this film. That chariot race gets real bloody, real fast. So yeah, good job, Timur.
I also have to give props to the actors. Most of the performances in this film are great. I really wish I was watching these performances in a movie worthy of them. Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell share remarkable chemistry and they give their characters enough weight to make us care. On a side-note, I honestly feel terrible for Toby Kebbell. He’s a fine actor who constantly brings his A-Game. Sadly, he keeps choosing the wrong movies to star in. He’s so much better than most of the films he chooses. Toby, you made it through Fant4stic and you made it through Warcraft. I really hope you don’t go the way of Taylor Kitsch (another great actor who doesn’t get enough credit) after this one.
However, the good stuff pretty much stops there. While the main leads are good, this movie commits the unforgivable sin of making Morgan Freeman… boring! How do you do that? Morgan Freeman is one of the most lovable actors in Hollywood. Yet, in this film, he looks so disinterested in the role he’s playing. Every time you see him, he makes a face that just screams “I really hope that check is in the mail.” Oh, Morgan, just tell me you were paying off a car or something. That would at least be a more believable excuse.
Also, remember when I said that the film gave Huston and Kebbel enough weight to make us care? Yeah, that’s because they spend almost 45 minutes on set-up. This would be fine if the movie was 3 hours long like the Charlton Heston film but it’s not. The film is only 2 hours long and it takes almost half the movie to get to the inciting incident. This not only disrupts the pacing of the film but also had me looking at my watch wondering when the film was going to get on with itself. We know the story. We know that Messala is going to betray Judah. There’s no reason why it should take that long to get to that incident given the film’s running time.
We also see Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) a great deal in this film. Now, I don’t have a problem with this at all. The film was based on a book called Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ by Lee Wallace. So, that being said, it stands to reason that Jesus would make a few appearances throughout the story. Even Rodrigo Santoro does a wonderful job playing him so that only makes it more welcome. However, while some of his scenes work, others feel so shoehorned that it is baffling why they weren’t cut. The film goes from the story of Ben-Hur to the story of Jesus in some areas and that’s not the movie I came to see.
That all said, even with all of these complaints, I was willing to give this film a pass. Seriously, despite its faults, it was entertaining enough for me to recommend it… until the ending. I am not kidding when I say that this film has one of the worst endings I have ever seen in my life. It was the biggest middle finger this film could have given to its audience as it made the entire movie completely pointless. It made me question why I even bothered sitting in a theater for two hours watching it. Now, I’m not allowed to talk spoilers in these reviews. However, if you see this movie, as soon as the chariot race is over… just turn it off and never look back as long as you live. You will thank me later.
Overall, Ben-Hur boasts some good acting, impressive sets, and some cool action sequences but has far too many flaws and falls flat on its face with its ending. I’d recommend maybe catching it on Netflix or even renting it from RedBox. However, I can’t justify recommending you pay $12 to see it in a theater. Judging by the film’s Box-Office Gross this weekend, apparently, no one else could either.
- Good Lead Performances
- The Chariot Race
- The Ship Sequence
- Watered Down & Cliche'
- Worst Ending In Recent Memory
- It Makes Morgan Freeman Boring... How Do You Do That?
- Takes Way Too Long To Establish The Inciting Incident.
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.