God's Not Dead 2 is yet another "disastrous" contribution to the growing realm of Christian movies, according to one film critic.
Well, actually that's according to more than one, considering it only has a 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but this particular critic is worth listening to because she enthusiastically admits to being in the film's demographic.
Alissa Wilkinson's negative review hit FlavorWire on April 1, and among the criticisms that she had to share were these: it "misrepresents church versus state conflicts" and it "condescends to Christians."
Wilkinson grew up a Christian and continues to identify with the faith. A film critic for Christianity Today, she is also an "Evangelical Presbyterian."
"Fact: I am the intended audience for these movies," she writes in a separate post for Thrillist. "I've been a Christian all my life, attending evangelical churches, singing in the choir, and helping out at Vacation Bible School. I was homeschooled for religious reasons and grew up in a rural town."
However, she began to notice the dearth of quality films to roll off the proverbial assembly line after Mel Gibson scored a massive box office hit with The Passion of the Christ, a film that remains the highest grossing R-rated film of all time domestically.
God's Not Dead — the original — was a "nail in the coffin," according to Wilkinson, after it made around $58 million at the box office.
"God's Not Dead is a technically proficient film that earns its title from both misreading Nietzsche and finding inspiration in the Newsboys, a Christian band I listened to in high school who feature heavily in the film. By the end I was actively offended."
Wilkinson remarks that she was "offended" by the way the original — and now God's Not Dead 2 — seem to laugh off things like science in favor of "mysterious car engine fixes … and heartfelt anecdotes" that seem to act as "proof" God is alive, "an inherently unprovable thing."The biggest problem with God's Not Dead 2, its predecessor, and most faith based movies, is that "instead of exercising and challenging the imagination of their audience in ways that would make their audience better Christians, they shut down imagination and whisper sweet nothings into their ears instead."
Both Wilkinson's God's Not Dead 2 review and her assessment of faith-based movies (linked above) are harsh takedowns of what many would deem a well-meaning genre of film, but she isn't entirely wrong.
Much of the criticisms that these films experience have less to do with messaging from mainstream critics and more to do with the competence of screenplay, acting, and direction.
Browsing through the Tomatometers for some of the most popular Christian movies reveal a large number of "Rottens." Still, audiences do not seem to mind. They rewarded the cheaply produced films with consistently profitable box office performances.
The first, and now second, film in the God's Not Dead saga only cost about $2 million to produce. The original grossed just north of $62 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, while the $8 million opening of its sequel has already ensured there will be a third in the franchise landing in theaters sometime next year.The films are more appealing to movie studios, and the talent attached, than ever before for the following reasons.
Firstly, they are, by comparison to most films, cheap to make and market.
A new contribution to the pantheon of faith-based movies can usually gross what it needs to to turn a profit through grassroots marketing to churches. From there, Christian word-of-mouth does the rest, as most of the audience for these types of movies feel ideologically blackballed by today's Hollywood.
Secondly, Christian audiences are able to forgive cheap production values, poor writing, and bad acting if a film shares their values.
But with Wilkinson's hatred for Christian movies, that could be changing.
What do you think, readers? Christian or not, do you like these films? And if not, why not?
[Image via God's Not Dead 2 screen grab]