First it was “Ghostbusters.” Then it was “Pete’s Dragon.” Now “Ben-Hur” is the third movie this summer to get the reimagining treatment for contemporary audiences.
Unlike the former, which was unnecessary, and the second, which actually improved on the original, this one doesn’t disrespect the material, but it doesn’t do much to add to it either.
Jack Huston slips into Heston’s sandals as Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince taken in by a wealthy Roman family. He’s wrongfully accused of treason during a visit from Pontius Pilate and sentenced to five years as a slave. He vows revenge against the man responsible, his adoptive brother Messala, a Roman centurion (Toby Kebbell).
Ben-Hur’s ship is ambushed by a Greek army and he manages to escape. He then finds himself in front of a Nubian sheik (Morgan Freeman) who trains him how to use a chariot in order to seek his aforementioned retribution. Freeman is arguably the best thing in the movie, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Charioting is Ben-Hur’s ticket back to Rome where he faces off one-on-one against Messala. The chariot race has some intense moments, even if they are measured for the PG-13 rating, but for me, the only real reason to incorporate it was to show off the advancements in special effects since 1959.
The movie also does give us a few occasional moments of Ben-Hur meeting Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro), but just like the original, Christ is not much more of a supporting character, although Santoro does get some effective moments.
Director Timur Bekmabetov, who made the dynamically thrilling “Wanted,” and the goofily entertaining “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” does show honor to what’s been done before, but he doesn’t really make this film his own. Huston is basically doing his best Russell Crowe impersonation. Kebbell does a second-rate Joaquin Phoenix attempt.
This remake lacks any of the emotional weight and depth that the previous incarnation had. It supplies the subject, yet lacks the inspiration. Decades from now, even today’s younger audiences may still choose the Heston version.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and some disturbing images.
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.