God’s Not Dead 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Pure Flix Entertainment
Directed by Harold Cronk
The first God’s Not Dead movie came out about the same time as Captain America the Winter Solider. Went I went to see Captain America with some friends, the lines for the respective theaters lined up just right so that the Captain American line was right next to the God’s Not Dead line; two parallel lines essentially. I looked up and down the Captain America line, and saw kids, adults, families, millennials; all of different backgrounds and races. I look across from me and see the God’s Not Dead line which is filled with nothing but middle aged white people, and the young children of middle aged white people. The first movie was an unconscionably awful smear against everyone who didn’t subscribe to the filmmakers point of view, and I expect nothing less than that from the sequel. Is this just as bad, or can this possibly be worse? Let’s find out…
The movie is somewhat of a sequel to the original with only some of the secondary characters returning and there being a new protagonist (so basically the View Askewniverse for Evangelicals). The one to take over main character duties from Josh Wheaton is Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart); a high school history teacher and devout Christian. What kind of Christian? Eh… it doesn’t matter I’m gonna guess she’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Anyway, one of her students Brooke (Hayley Orrantia) is trying to deal with the death of her brother, but isn’t getting much support from her ATHIEST parents who seem to be emotionally dead and barely registering that their son has died. I guess that’s what happens when you sell your soul to Satan or whatever they believe Atheist do. Brooke eventually approaches Grace outside of school for some advice and she learns that Grace gets through all the bad times do to her belief in Jesus. Cut to sometime later and it turns out that her brother was a closet Christian (okay…) which prompts her to read up on the Bible and she manages to get some comfort out of that. Fair enough, but here’s where things get tricky. Grace is teaching about non-violent protest leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, which prompts Brooke to ask if a parallel can be drawn between them and Jesus. Grace answers the question, all hell breaks loose as the school board finds out, and eventually she finds herself embroiled in a court case with her plucky lawyer Tom (Jesse Metcalfe) despite him being a “non-believer” (*cough* Bullshit *cough*). While this is going on, we also see how this case is affecting some of the characters who return from the last movie such as Pastor Dave (David AR White) who JUST SO HAPPENS to end up on the jury for the trial. It’s almost like it was fate or something! Can Grace and Tom win this case to preserve everyone’s right to their own faith? Will The Bad GuysTM manage to stop them and put all Christians to death in the process? DID THIS MOVIE JUST SEQUEL BAIT US!?
Does it surprise anyone to know that this movie is detestable? Does anyone expect integrity and honesty from a Pure Flix movie? You’d think that a studio that purports to create films about a religion that’s all about being a good person, being tolerant, and being honest would crank out a few well rounded and ethically sound stories, but for the most part it’s been this. Garbage that paints an overwhelming majority as a helpless minority. Crap that feels the ends justify the means (a most unchristian thing to believe) as long as it gets butts in seats. This is the kind of abomination you only get from people so damn sure of their own moral superiority and sense of self-righteousness that it justifies them being wrong about everything and freely manipulating it’s audience with cheap gimmicks, offensive stereotypes, and lies, upon lies, upon lies. I am exhausted just thinking about this and am dreading whatever sequel may come that they bait so hard at the end of this like it’s a fucking comic book movie. You don’t need me to tell you this is bad. Hell, you don’t even need me to tell you HOW bad. It wasn’t made for anyone else besides it frighteningly devoted audience who will flock to this simply because they feel it is a faith affirming action. Honestly, any religious leader who advocates that their congregation to see this movie is derelict in their duty and is only helping this toxic, entitled, and privileged mindset that some aspects of modern day Christianity has found themselves in.
To sell any convincing lie, you first have to wrap in a truth, so what is the small grain of truth this movie chooses to exploit? I agree that public schools can be reactionary in ALL matters and are constantly butting heads with the perspectives and beliefs of their students and the parents. Dress codes that focus primarily on women. Holiday pageants that focus almost exclusively on Christmas traditions. Dungeons and Dragons being banned (I wonder which group was pushing for THAT one). LGBT rights and policies that either hurt LGBT students or protect them (the latter which THIS movie would consider hurting Christians). Even Christians have had brush ups with public schools about displaying their faith in a fair and reasonable way while on school grounds. All this stuff happens, and honestly it’s something that’s hard to avoid because of how diverse the people who have to interact with each other in a school environment can be. To bring it back to the movie, as an atheist and liberal (two things this movie demonizes), I absolutely do not feel that Grace’s “crime” as it were was at all worthy of going to court over or even getting reprimanded. The school board in this movie was overly zealous and reactionary towards what had happened, though of course that’s the whole freaking point.
Are you ready for the lie? Okay, so once you accept that public schools can fuck up and be more concerned with covering their ass than allowing free expression, the movie THEN wants you to go along with the idea that this is a nationwide conspiracy and witch hunt to destroy Christianity with public schools being the first step in a slippery slope towards the criminalization of all things Jesus. I’ll get into how the movie does this in a second, but the best way to convey this would be the series of court cases at the end of the movie that list some examples of schools clashing with religious students, but also stick in crap about anti-gay lawsuits and that freaking flower lady who didn’t want to sell to a gay couple. It’s ham handedly trying to draw parallels between legitimate questions about freedom of religion and the kind of bigoted rationalization that equates refusal to allow oppression with oppression itself. Kind of like how Pure Flix sells itself as being wholesome through an exploitative veneer of Christianity when all it’s doing is spreading intolerance and ignorance.
To be fair, those are mostly issues OUTSIDE of the movie and how it’s trying to sell itself to the public. Within the movie itself, what does it get wrong? What makes this such a bafflingly hateful film? For the most part, I can sum it up in one word. Coding. It’s a basic concept in storytelling where a character is given characteristics that serve a secondary purpose other than informing us about the character (there are much better definitions out there by people much smarter than me, so don’t just take my word on it). Disney villains tend to be a good example of this, as many of them are coded gay (foppish attitudes, slick looks, preening and prissy) but are never revealed as such in their respective movies. Every aspect of this movie is infused with coding, from the good guys looking more attractive, to the bad guys being greedy. This movie (and the previous one for that matter) does this a lot while purporting to be about a debate or a rational exchange of ideas. It’s duplicitous and underhanded which should be expected from a Pure Flix movie, but they are just shameless with it here. Christian protesters are always silent and holding up positive signs, while the not-Christian protestors are angrily yelling and playing that shit up to the nines. The most telling part? The movie never actually lets you hear what they are saying. It’s all indistinguishable noise, so as not to either fail to put accurate words in their mouths or have them say something that humanizes them or shows a rational counterargument. Trust me; the LAST thing this movie wants is to have a rational argument about anything.
The big crux of their case in the second act is to prove Jesus was actually alive and therefore a historical figure which makes it TOTALLY valid to bring him up in a history class. WHAT!? The movie stops for ten minutes as two (presumably real life) authors take the stand and talk about the books they wrote that proves Jesus had lived. The thing is that whether or not Jesus was real (my very limited research seems to point towards PROBABLY with heavy skepticism on what he actually did outside of biblical accounts), it doesn’t help this case. Even if we take it as fact that Jesus existed, she was still quoting GOSPEL; not historical texts. We all know without a doubt that Joseph Smith lived, but that doesn’t mean that The Book of Mormon is gonna make it through the school board. This whole diversion is not for the benefit of Grace’s case or the story itself, rather it’s an attempt by the movie to try to outsmart Atheist into becoming Christian by throwing “facts” in their face to the point that one of the authors outright says that they were an atheist until they started researching the gospels and eventually had enough “evidence” that Christianity is right on the money.
On top of the despicable coding and dumb arguments aimed at non-believers who aren’t going to watch this movie (except me, but I have an excuse), the movie takes shots at some very odd targets. The primary villain in this is the head prosecutor of the case (or lawsuit I think? I have no idea) and is played by Ray Wise who looks like he’s auditioning to be in The Devil’s Advocate 2 or maybe a Silence of the Lambs remake. Not only is this guy SO slimy that he gets to say “we will once and for all prove that God is dead”, he turns out to be a lawyer for the ACLU. Yes, of all organizations for this movie to demonize (almost literally with the quality of Wise’s scumbag performance), they chose the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization that represented Oliver Brown in Brown v Board of Education; the Supreme Court case whose decision ended public school segregation. The organization that represented Clarence Gideon in Gideon v Wainwright; the Supreme Court case that guarantees all citizens the right to an attorney (a right by the way that is the reason Grace got Tom as a public defender who ended up winning the case). I’m not saying that criticisms of the ACLU are invalid just because of their history, but what the movie is doing here is not criticism; it’s slander (probably not in the LEGAL sense, but definitely in regard to the definition). Also, I think there’s an anti-Chinese (possibly anti-communist) message here in regards to Martin’s story line (the Chinese student from the first movie played by Paul Kwo). At first, it’s fine as he goes to Pastor Dave several times to get his questions answered, but then things take severely dark turn once his father shows up. Remember the part of the last movie where a Muslim father beat the shit out of her daughter and threw her out of the house for listening to Christian sermons? Well in this movie, Martin’s dad slaps him and disowns him for being a Christian. There’s no plausible reason given for why he does this and there’s also no indication that Martin is abandoning one faith for another. It just feels like paranoia and stereotypes regurgitated to the screen for an audience that clearly doesn’t know that Jesus loves everyone and not just white Christians.
Was there anything good in this movie? I would say… there were tolerable moments when it wasn’t being openly hostile to anything they wish to deem as an opponent. David AR White as Pastor Dave was actually kind of fun at the beginning with his slapstick shtick and generally nice attitude about everything. As stated earlier, he has a subplot with Martin and it’s actually pretty solid as a much better representation of Christianity than anything in the court room. Hell, even Melissa Joan Hart’s story about helping Brooke deal with the death of her brother is nice as we once again see the good that Christianity can bring to people that need it. I’ll even stretch the olive branch a BIT further as I will praise Amy’s subplot. She returns from the first movie (the liberal who gets cancer played by Trisha LaFache) and while I’m FUMING at this movie implying that cancer can be cured with prayer (no bullshit; that’s what the movie is saying), it segues into a story about her questioning if she only had faith because she was sick and if she still feels God and Jesus’s presence now that she’s not dying. It doesn’t really amount to anything (spoiler alert: she remains a Christian) but that was the closest this movie could manage to being nuanced.
Unfortunately for Pastor Dave though, his subplot turns out to be on the most turgid and reactionary screeds against the rest of humanity that, honestly should be expected from David AR White. At about the halfway point, his subplot becomes about several local Ministers, Priests, etc (including himself) being hit with subpoena’s to provide their sermons to the government. This is intended to be a parallel to what happened in Houston in 2014 where the local government had issued subpoenas to a few churches for copies of the sermons as part of a lawsuit filed against them by religious groups. What happened was that Huston passed a LGBT rights ordinance that many churches disapproved of, so they got signatures to put the ordinance on the November ballot for a possible veto. When reviewing the signatures, many were thrown out as they did not meet the city charter of Huston’s requirements. The churches who gathered said signatures filed suit, subpoenas were issued to gather any documents (including sermons) that would be relevant to the case, and they were soon dropped after public outcry. Now notice how I actually explained the situation, didn’t conflate one side or the other, and you can reasonably come to a conclusion on either end as to the validity of those subpoenas (I’d say it was PROBABLY an overreach as I don’t think the churches subpoenaed were the ones listed in the lawsuit but were merely affiliated with those churches). This movie doesn’t have time for that though, so they name check Huston, give no context to what the government is requesting them for in this movie, allows the characters to start throwing out wild theories about censoring sermons without any evidence WITHIN THE FILM ITSELF to back them up, and then ends the movie with Pastor Dave getting arrested for not complying with the subpoena; setting us up for God’s Not Dead The Third: Poke the Body Again Just to Make Sure. It’s propaganda, pure and simple, that will pray on people’s ignorance and love of religious martyrdom.
I’m tired of being angry at this movie. Instead, I’m just gonna get really sad. Imagine the world that the people who craft and consume these kinds of messages live in. One where they are constantly under attack by the outside world. No one is worth trusting who isn’t a Christian. Every slight will ultimately lead to a slippery slope and a gun to their head simply because of what they believe in. The people who were in line at the first movie, looking across to the Captain America line the same way I looked at them; did they just see enemies? There are great Christian filmmakers out there who have made masterpieces from the perspective that their religious upbringing has brought to them (look no further than Scorsese). These movies honestly don’t feel like they’re from a Christian viewpoint, but instead are cynically developed to drum up sales for something or to push people towards a political goal. Maybe Pure Flix is sincere in their efforts, but I honestly doubt it considering how consistently they release movies of this low quality and this toxic mindset. Don’t go see the damn movie, like I even have to tell you that. Just… hope that we get some better movies soon. Unlike this movie’s assertion to the contrary, I have lots of hope despite my non-Christian status and I reserve it for hoping that movies like this are swiftly forgotten and don’t do nearly as much damage as they are intending to. Maybe God will visit David AR White one day and tell him he’s been fucking up this whole time and to get his act together. All we can do is hope, am I right?