"Christianity gets a bad rap in Alejandro Amenabar's 'Agora', a historical epic in which the early church is shown violently oppressing other faiths, science and women in its bid for political power," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen. "An enormously ambitious attempt to recreate the conflicts of 4th century Alexandria, many of which are still raging today, 'Agora' ultimately fails to hang together narratively and does not engage on the same grand emotional level as the sword and sandal epics of old - 'Quo Vadis?,' 'Ben-Hur' et al - which it is clearly trying to reinvent."
Introducing his interview with Amenabar for the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein tells us first how the director became interested in Hypatia, "who lived in Alexandria during the 4th century AD, in the waning days of the Roman Empire. The daughter of Theron, the last director of the famed Library of Alexandria, she was not only a brilliant theorist in astronomy, but a mathematician and philosopher.... It's the story of Hypatia, who is played by Rachel Weisz, that Amenabar tells in 'Agora'... It's a fascinating film, crammed with both stirring visual images and intellectual ideas. The film is at its most compelling when Amenabar shows the once-stable civilization of Alexandria being overwhelmed by fanaticism, perhaps because the bearded, black-robe clad Christian zealots who sack the library and take over the city bear an uncanny resemblance to the ayatollahs and Taliban of today."
"Amenabar gets most of the epic staples out of the way relatively early: flatly acted scenes of textbook exposition, overly earnest extras, main characters who wander unscathed through hordes of butchery and, of course, frequently swelling music." Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter: "The story then becomes a timely parable on religious intolerance, inexorable fundamentalist violence and the powerlessness of reason and personal freedom in the face of both."
"Amenabar, the director of visually memorable features such as 'The Others' and 'The Sea Inside' clearly aimed to make an old school epic of Cecil B Demille proportions, and ended up with a hollow reflection of one," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "It's worth noting that 'Agora' looks fantastic, with magnificent virtual camera movements that swoop down from space to a large scale replica of Alexandria, taking full advantage of the wide screen canvas. Frequent cutaways to the cosmos, which underscore Hypathia's lectures, would look great on IMAX. In the context of the movie, they overshadow the rest of the narrative." (...)