Tweetable Takeaway: There’s no saving grace in the ham-fisted, poorly executed #GodsNotDead2 Tweet
There aren’t many films that manage to push a blatant agenda while also executing that agenda in such a horribly ham-fisted way as GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, a movie packed with one-dimensional characters so cartoonish that they make Saturday morning children’s programming look like grounded, serious reflections of humanity. Every character in this movie operates in black-and-white terms; all that’s missing from the ‘good guys’ are floating halos above their heads, while the ‘bad guys’ just need curly mustaches to twist. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a movie attempting to push an agenda, and the best movies will attempt to argue a thesis from a specific point of view. But when it’s done in an obvious, poorly-written, and uninspired manner, problems arise. God’s Not Dead 2 clearly coasts on its built-in, faith-based audience who will see the film regardless of its quality, which makes for an excruciating experience for anyone attempting to apply a critical analysis.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch has given up the witchcraft, embraced God, and now teaches AP History at a high school. Of course I’m talking about Melissa Joan Hart, who much like Kevin Sorbo in the first God’s Not Dead, acts as this film’s star power. Although Ray Wise as the evil ACLU attorney and Ernie Hudson as Judge Robert Stennis certainly give Hart a run for her money in that department. Hart plays a school teacher named Grace – in just one example of the film’s lack of subtlety (frankly, I’m shocked the rest of characters weren’t give similar on-the-nose names, like Hope, Mr. Good Prayer, Lucifer, and Slimeball). When one of Grace’s students asks a question about Jesus Christ, and Grace answers by quoting the Bible to explain what Jesus meant, some dude decides this is the perfect time to text his parents about how offended he is by this. First of all, I can’t imagine a world in which a teen is paying this much attention in history class to suddenly be offended by an innocuous quote. Second, the consequences of quoting the Bible are blown completely out of proportion in order to justify the movie in the first place.
Grace, when asked by her superiors to apologize, decides that, much like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus himself, she must stand up to the powers that be. Again, a gross exaggeration. Suddenly, Grace finds herself in court, with an appointed attorney, and it appears the devil himself is the prosecutor. Ray Wise plays ACLU attorney Peter Kane, who makes insane statements throughout the film about how much he hates everything Christians stand for, and the court case will prove once and for all that God is dead. While meeting with one of the students’ parents to persuade them that their daughter shouldn’t testify, it’s as if a deal with the devil is being made. Even the ink pen Kane uses is blood-red. It’s just a shock he doesn’t have them sign in actual blood. Every beat of the film feels like a square peg being forced into round hole. The film needs to set everything up so that Grace is the one being prosecuted, but none of it makes any sense.
Even more nonsensical are the witnesses who are called to the stand. The questions that are asked by each side are often followed by alternating beats of “Ah ha!”, or “Gotcha!”, or “The jury didn’t see that coming!” Which, sure, a courtroom drama should do – so long as those moments actually feel grounded in the world established by the film. In this film, however, the witnesses that are called by each side often seem to make arguments that hurt the side they’ve been called by. Or exist arbitrarily. One witness is a teacher who, only three scenes prior, was Grace’s friend. Now her testimony is the harshest of any witness, despite having no evidence to back her claims up. This witness just seems to exist to serve as a dramatic twist in the film, not because she’s an actual character. It’s always easiest to spot who is a bad guy in this film by how slimy or sleazy he or she acts or looks. The school’s lawyer who wants to take down Grace looks like he moisturizes with olive oil. And of course, the good guys are all attractive and well-groomed.
The downside of having a built-in audience is that filmmakers can count on pleasing them without having to focus on quality or substance. God’s Not Dead 2 is the most egregious offender in this category. It preaches to the choir without presenting anything that resembles entertainment, excitement, or a compelling alternative to sitting in chair doing nothing for 2 hours. Lately, faith-based films have done well at the box office by being able to bank on their guaranteed audiences, but many of the filmmakers behind those movies are neglecting to make movies that might attract others beyond their core audience. If that continues to be the case, let’s just pray that we’re spared a God’s Not Dead 3.
I give God’s Not Dead 2 1 Sabrina the Teenage Witch out of 5
Score: 1 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor