Cary, NC – Ben-Hur is a remake of the Oscar winning 1959 Charlton Heston classic, which was also a remake, interestingly enough. This iteration, starring Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) and Morgan Freeman, fails to live up to its predecessors, making for a bland and forgettable filmgoing experience.
Fails To Stand Out
Remakes are a tricky thing. Personally, I don’t mind them as long as the filmmakers are trying to do something different. Pete’s Dragon is a great example. That film took the bare storyline of the original and turned it into something wholly unique and satisfying, allowing itself to stand tall and proud next to its original counterpart.
Ben-Hur, however, doesn’t do much different. The plot is basically the same. Judah Ben-Hur is accused of treason by his adoptive brother Messala, played here by Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Black Mirror). There’s even a chariot race. But director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) fails to make this version feel necessary.
I must admit, I’m genuinely bummed too because this director has made some interesting films in the past. Even if you don’t particularly like them, it’s hard to deny just how bonkers they are, and for me personally, I’ve at least found his films unique to enjoy in that way. But his Ben-Hur is pretty much by the numbers.
Good Actors Underused
Huston plays the title character this time out and he does all he can with what he’s been given. Huston was so good and so compelling in Boardwalk Empire, and he’s had brief but very memorable roles in films like Hail, Caesar! and American Hustle. And his co-star Kebbell, who was also outstanding in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, making a great foil for Andy Serkis in that film, feels underutilized here. Kebbell has a great intensity about him, which is what makes the lack of tension between him and Huston so surprising. Such a wasted opportunity.
A True Disappointment
Overall, this remake of Ben-Hur isn’t a terrible film by any means. The effects are impressive and there is an appropriate sense of scale befitting a movie like this, but it just feels lacking. It’s not that we didn’t need a remake of Ben-Hur, it just seems that we didn’t need this one. Not worth the price of admission.