God's Not Dead Sequel Takes 2 Steps Back for Christian Cinema
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2016 29 Mar
If you believe the "show don't tell" dictum about how art should work, prepare yourself: God's Not Dead 2 is an endless stream of "telling" that shows how far Christian filmmakers have to go in creating stories that reach beyond their core audience. 1 out of 5.
Want Another Take? Watch Crosswalk's Video Review of God's Not Dead 2
The forces arrayed against Christianity are on the move, and they're more determined than ever to prove that God is dead. This time out teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) faces termination for answering a student's question about Jesus by referencing Scripture. Soon she's being interrogated by the school board about whether the exchange was appropriate. With the help of a teachers' union lawyer (Jesse Metcalfe) who draws the case because he's "low man on the totem pole," Grace defends her right to refer to Jesus in public. Meanwhile, Christian authors like Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ) and J. Warner Wallace (Cold Case Christianity) take the stand to testify to the historicity of the person of Jesus Christ and to defend the historical reliability of Scripture.
While the film has too many subplots, the chance to revisit characters from the first God's Not Dead like Rev. Dave (David A.R., White), Rev. Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango) and the seeker Martin (Paul Kwo) provide welcome distractions from the courtroom scenes.
Writers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon have packaged a series of high-profile Christians-in-the-public-square grievances from the past several years into a story of entirely one-dimensional characters: persecuted Christian heroes against crusading anti-God lawyers who squarely fit evangelical stereotypes. The number of characters is itself a problem. While the storylines share a theme about standing against a culture that's hostile to Christian faith, the narrative threads other than the main courtroom drama are underdeveloped.
Last year, after watching the movie Do You Believe?, I credited the filmmakers for taking a step in the right direction in making films by and for Christians. But if that film took a step forward, God’s Not Dead 2 takes two steps back. Lacking any of the brief cinematic flourishes or affecting performances of Jon Gunn's Do You Believe?, Harold Cronk's God’s Not Dead 2 is a relentlessly talky, blandly directed, visually dull series of characters espousing their beliefs in ways which feel, frankly, tired. That's one thing the Gospel should never be! Christians are commanded to always be ready to give a reason for their faith, but it's not enough for a movie to have a series of pronouncements declaring the validity of beliefs in the historical personhood of Jesus (something even most opponents of Christianity admit to).
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The entire plot is built around putting Christianity on trial, so characters quote the Bible in defense of their faith and witness to the reality of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: A father slaps his son.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of the first God’s Not Dead who are eager to see their faith defended and explained, no matter how heavy-handed and artificial the narrative behind that presentation may be.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those hoping to see Christian filmmakers package their stories in ways that might surprise not only unbelievers, but the core audience of faithful Christians. Moviegoers who convince themselves that unbelievers will be persuaded by this pedantic, uncinematic treatment of Christianity aren't giving their unbelieving friends enough credit. And yet, unbelievers aren’t really the audience for this story, which is aimed more squarely at Christians worried about trends in religious-liberty legal cases.
If believers don't expect more from Christian filmmakers than repackaged culture-war talking points, if all it takes to bring us out to the multiplex is a title pronouncing something we believe, then it'll only be the rare mainstream film that taps Christian themes in ways that provoke interest. Why not challenge the Konzelmans and Solomons of the Christian film world to do better than God's Not Dead 2?
God's Not Dead 2, directed by Harold Cronk, opened in theaters April 1, 2016; available for home viewing August 16, 2016. It runs 121 minutes and stars Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, David A.R. White, Ray Wise, Robin Givens, Pat Boone, Benjamin A, Onyango, Paul Kwo and Ernie Hudson. Watch the trailer for God's Not Dead 2 here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: March 29, 2016