This is a really good movie and not a remake of the Charlton Heston version in 1959, which I think everyone is mistaking it as just another remake. It is a adaptation of the book.
The movie begins with the chariot race, before flashing back to 8 years earlier where we See Messala and Ben Hur having their own private race, where they are closer like brothers. The story continues to follow them as they drift apart. Messala tries his best to fit in with Rome and his role as a Roman soldier, and makes the decision to turn against those who had raised him and loved him. The pace never drags as we follow Ben-Hur during his time as a galley slave, before escaping, and meeting a nomad (Morgan Freeman's character) where he endears himself to the man and decides to follow the older man's advice of facing Messala in the chariot race. We all know the story.
The acting is superb. Jack Hutson does a great job as Judah Ben-Hur, bu showcasing how Ben-Hur struggles with his loyalty to Messala, his desire for peace, and his duty to his people. As we travel down the road of Ben-Hur's increasing desire for revenge, you feel as though the actor himself is experiencing the same inner demons ass the character, making Ben-Hur's enlightenment at the end much more powerful when he realizes what his quest for revenge has cost him. Toby Kebbel as Messala does a great job portraying the orphaned Roman, raised by Judeans, who questions and is always uncertain of where he belongs. His descent into further hatred and jealousy of his family is clearly portrayed and believable. The two actors have great chemistry on the screen to where you believe that they were brothers who were close, estranged, and then grow close again.
I loved the ending as Illderim frees Ben-Hur's family from the prison they were in and the scene between Ben-Hur and Messala as he apologizes and says that he will not fight anymore is a powerful one. The ending with them riding off together as brothers again is a great ending and embodies what Christ was trying to tell Ben-Hur earlier in the film. In fact, you see his very message exemplified in the story of Ben-Hur and Messala.
I enjoyed the film and never grew bored. And despite the critics complaint about CGI, there is very little of it and it isn't noticeable like it is in a lot of movies coming out lately. The dialogue was fine and fit the story, some of it coming straight from the novel itself. This is the story of Ben-Hur, but still very different from the 1959 version, which bored me to death and overlong in my opinion, but Cecil B. Demil liked his epics.
I think it is sad that so many are trashing this film and can only conclude that they are doing so because they hold the 1959 version in such high regard, that it is basically canon and should not be touched. They are so nostalgic about the Charlton Heston version that they believe anything that follows will just be garbage and should be treated as such.
Give this movie a try. The critics hate it, but can you really be surprised? Critics hate just about everything. Many trashing are only doing so because they see this as just another remake, or they think that the 1959 version is the only "true" version. The movie is worth seeing. It is very good, quite enjoyable, and does not feel like a remake. Give it try and judge for yourself.