Well, this was a disappointment. It is my fault for having never seen the 1959 Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston. Oh, in the past half-century I have seen the chariot race several times, which is why I went to see this sword & sandal movie today. Little did I know that it was a Christian religious movie taken from an 1880 novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ."
This movie followed that previous movie with a few tweaks of plot points but basically the same story. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is Jewish nobility in Jerusalem.
His father took in an orfaned Roman boy, Messala (Toby Kebbell) and the two boys grew up as brothers.
Long story short, Messala identifies with his Roman heritage and joins the legions, rising to captain after surviving many battles. He then is stationed in Jerusalem, where the Zealots are causing problems and a holy man named Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) is of concern to the Roman rulers.
Juda is implicated in sedition and Messala who is under pressure from Rome sentences him to be a galley slave and imprisons the rest of his family. Juda survives 5 years as a galley slave and survives his ship sinking in battle. He washes ashore and is taken in by a Nubian Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) and is trained to be a charioteer.
So you see where this is going - to the famous chariot race in the circus against his adopted brother Messala.
This is in 33 AD on our calendar which started at Jesus' birth and you know 33 is the magical age that Jesus died, so the story kinda went more heavily into that story towards the end.
Ben-Hur received overwhelmingly positive reviews - in 1959. This version, not so much. The aggregate critics on Rotten Tomatoes only gave it a 31% Fresh and only 66% of audiences liked it.
I enjoyed it until the end when the religious parts took over. It showed a brutal time of history when Rome was ruling its empire without mercy. Also, the conflicts of brothers from opposing sides of that empire. There were some distressing scenes of life as a galley slave on a warship and how you had to resign yourself to the fact that you would be a casualty of war if not the dreadful working conditions.
This is one of those remakes that need not have been made. Could be the subject matter of this movie played better in the cold war era when everyone believed Charlton Heston was Moses (including himself) and god was in heaven and all was right with America if not the world. The world has become more diverse since that time, or at least I have.