Review: The New ‘Ben-Hur’ Can’t Justify Its Own Existence

I can’t lie: I thought I’d be adding an elbow drop to the critical dog-pile this Ben-Hur redo has been receiving. But I’ve got to give credit to this new version for being entertaining in parts, even though it still can’t justify its own existence.

The brotherly love-hate relationship between Jewish prince Judah (Jack Huston, Boardwalk Empire) and Roman warrior Messala (Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is well handled by the actors. Huston and Kebbell go above the call to deliver the warmth needed to show the brothers’ bond, the underlying frustration they express when their ideals conflict, and the eventual hatred that boils over when those differences clash.

But director Timur Bekmambetov doesn’t do much to amplify Christian themes on the toxic effect of hate and the understated power of forgiveness. He does the bare minimum with the storytelling, making an epic tale with grand emotions and memorable morals feel as slight and forgettable as a TV Christmas Special.

When it comes to the film’s best action scenes however, things become interesting. A sequence involving Judah as a rowing slave caught in a sea battle is shot almost entirely from inside the boat, creating claustrophobic chaos that’s surprisingly fun to watch. Then there’s the chariot race, which is decently handled with some bloody brutal wipe-outs.

Despite some cruddy CGI, these are the two highlights of this new Ben-Hur. Seen as a big dumb action film, you might have fun. But while ‘big dumb fun’ might be appropriate for big dumb ideas like adolescent turtle ninjas or an apocalyptic car chase, it feels completely unfit for a cherished story of biblical proportions.

‘Ben-Hur’ Movie Times | 3D Movie Times