Cinematic Releases: Ben-Hur (2016) - Reviewed

At the tail end of a mostly disappointing blockbuster theatrical season, another remake comes along and wipes the slate clean of all its competitors. For the first time this year, it feels like something special has happened at the cineplex. Ben-Hur (2016) is a sweeping epic so worthy of its namesake, it destroys all other retellings in its dusty wake. 

Run horsey run!!!

This retelling of the long running classic tale is easily one of the greatest movies of 2016 and takes a firm lead as the standout feature of the summer. While never straying from too far from its predecessors, this version of Ben-Hur grabs the reins and runs at a great pace, only struggling in a couple short areas of the film. As far as remakes go, this is one of the better ones. It uses modern graphics and visual effects at a bare minimum to try and maintain an excellent core story rooted in strong character development and classic plot devices.

This Ben-Hur could have become another flopped retread with no heart. Instead, director Timur Bekmambetov tugs at his audience's heart strings with a strong set of actors that know how to use their emotive strengths to full effect. Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) and Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four) both offer up their best work yet as the two opposing spectrums of good and evil. Huston plays the title character with ease as Kebbell once again shines as a notorious villain. Both of them are backed by stunning backdrops and seamless visuals that are unbelievably realistic. I'd never state that this beats the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston, but this version mirrors it in many ways. For the first time this summer, computer generated imagery takes a back seat and becomes a supporting player that's never too apparent or obvious to the eye. Despite a few glitches in the chariot race, you'd never know that many of the environments here are not natural.

Tell me, bro. Do you Jesus?
Although Huston and Kebbell are the main players here, one man steals the thunder from both of them. Rodrigo Santoro's epic performance as Jesus Christ is simply astounding. With almost no dialogue and a portrayal that exists simply on his ability to speak with his eyes and facial expressions, Santoro is obviously the best part of the movie. And, I'm not a religious person in the least. For some reason, his presentation of Jesus struck a chord with me and made me feel sympathetic and depressed about the way he was unfairly treated and executed. People that follow biblical events will be enthralled by the usage of his story to assist in the conclusion of Ben-Hur.

Not only does Ben-Hur succeed in its character arcs. The massive set pieces and battle scenes are of utmost importance and are uniquely amazing. From the sea battle to the chariot races, the action-centric areas of the film are an old school, edge of your seat thrill ride that outperforms anything we've seen from Star Trek, X-Men, or Suicide Squad this summer. The ships have weight and texture to them. The battles look astounding. And the final chariot race is a breathtaking ride loaded with tension and human carnage. Again, some slow moments definitely pull away from the flow of the movie. But, the good far outweighs the bad here. And we haven't even talked about some of the heavenly looking cinematography at all.

Many will take issue that this got remade again. I'm on the other side of that fence. This is a story that can be retold time and time again. This is a tale for the ages that's been handled properly by a talented director with a flair for eye catching cinematic elements. Considering most of the garbage we've seen this summer, Ben-Hur is a total standout that will have you gripping your seat, questioning the motives of men, and wondering how on Earth anyone could survive such a plight.  Introducing this story to a younger audience required a remake. And I give Bekmambetov all the credit in the world for taking this project. He deserves applause for pulling it off and for doing it with such creative fervor.

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