Last week was Holy Week and I thought it my religious duty to watch two bad Christian movies. What makes a bad Christian movie? Well… no sense of story or human emotions, bad theology, overstuffed with simplistic moralizing and plot points that end with an unearned (happy) resolution. Watching bad Christian movies is schadenfreude, fun because who doesn’t like slowing down at the site of a car wreck?
The first bad Christian movie I watched was Left Behind starring Nic Cage and it was as awful and wonderful as I had hoped. If you’re unfamiliar, Left Behind is the second movie adaptation of the book series by Tim LaHey and Jerry B. Jenkins about what happens to the world after Jesus raptures all the white people and leaves behind their clothes and planes in midair. Chaos ensues, the Devil shows up and is a Not-an-American because of course he isn’t, Evangelical Christians try and overthrow the government.
The plot is essentially the 2016 Presidential Primaries.
The Left Behind film (can I call it a film?) doesn’t get into all that fun stuff but it has all the hallmarks of a great bad Christian movie. The excellently named protagonist, Rayford Steele! (It doesn’t get better than that, Ladies and Gentlemen), played by Nic Cage flirts with a blonde lady whose name I never caught because it didn’t matter and who isn’t his wife to show us that Rayford Steele! isn’t a Christian. It’s not successful because he uses Dad Jokes and even my wife doesn’t think Dad Jokes are sexy. The moral of Left Behind is: if you tell Dad Jokes you won’t get raptured.
Rayford Steele!’s daughter, again didn’t catch the name, is an atheist college student home for break and antagonizes her genuinely creepy evangelical mother who keeps warning her about the rapture. And then the RAPTURE HAPPENS! Jesus calls the roll up yonder with a sound like **bloop** and bad CGI fires happen while the cast realizes who the monster is that put them in this whacky predicament. With exactly zero respect for the source material (The Bible) the movie makes Jesus out to be a scary sky monster. Then Left Behind ends with the cast becoming Christians and setting up a sequel that seems just as bad as the original.
The second bad Christian movie I saw was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and it’s pretty much the exact same thing as Left Behind.
I’m not a film reviewer but I love comic books and these characters and I’m sure you saw all the reviews last week but I’m going to try my best. I hope Ben Affleck doesn’t read this, I’d hate to make him more sad.
Jeremy Irons is the best Alfred ever. I’m not going to take it back. Michael Caine was great but Irons took it for me.
The few moments Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is in the film made me very excited to see her solo film. In a bleak movie where nobody smiled and it seemed as if nobody enjoyed being a superhero she was the sole exception. During the final fight scene with Doomsday she cracked a smile, used her bulletproof bracelets, and her Lasso of Truth. It was like, “Finally! A superhero who enjoys being a superhero!”
Despite its bleak aesthetic the film is gorgeous to look at. It looks like a comic book come to life. A very certain comic book. Maybe one from the 80’s. But for everything director Zak Snyder lacks in storytelling he makes up in beautiful shots.
Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL have penned an incredible score. I enjoyed Superman’s melodic, piano theme from Man of (Rayford)Steel(e!) and it returns here. Lex’s theme is chaotic and symphonic like a lesser Rites of Spring by Stravinsky. But the best musical cue was when Wonder Woman showed up – the electric guitars, excuse me, showed just how much she, I can’t believe I’m doing this, rocked.
So, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is divisive. It’s a strange performance. I didn’t think it was as bad as reviews made it seem. The Zuckerberg twist for Luthor is an interesting idea and it is marginally accomplished. Though it seemed like Eisenberg was aping Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight at moments.
The plot was not a good plot for a film, but it was pretty standard for a comic book but Batman V Superman is a film and not a comic book so it doesn’t always work. There are gaping holes and odd moments like that jar of… umm… Granny’s Peach Tea at Senator Finch’s (Holly Hunter) bench during Superman’s Senate hearing.
Fanboys are outraged by Batman’s willingness to take a life in this movie. Spoiler alert: Bad guys die as collateral damage in Batman’s crusade. But the thing is that in most of his film appearances Batman is perfectly okay with bad guys dying. Keaton kills Nicholson’s Joker, Bale doesn’t kill Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul but he doesn’t save him either. All that being said, Affleck is a great Batman if not a cruel Batman. My hope is that in future films he’ll be more heroic. This grisly Batman inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight is not as enjoyable as this more noble Batman from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited:
The editing of the film was off-putting. If the film had been more sensibly edited I wonder if it would have been as universally panned. The world building was weirdly edited. Like The Flash showed up in a dream-inside-a-dream and what he said had zero bearing on the story at hand. Also the Cyborg, Aquaman, and second Flash cameo would have been better served as a Marvel style post-credit scene.
I hate this Superman. I enjoyed Man of Steel more than most. The common complaints of that movie make sense but are addressed in this film – perhaps to a fault. I’d hoped the dreary tone of Man of Steel wouldn’t carry over but it did. In Man of Steel Superman declares that his emblem means “hope” on his home world, Krypton. But never, in either film, is he one bit hopeful. For the briefest moment during his first flight in Man of Steel Superman smiles but that never happen again. Henry Cavill has all he needs to be the definitive Superman of this generation but under Snyder’s direction and David S. Goyer’s plotting he is a depressing turd.
(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!)
That this movie opened on Good Friday is a spoiler. Snyder is never subtle with his religious metaphors. They fly out of Lex’s mouth faster than a speeding bullet but the iconography is never consistent and there’s very little emotional pay off.
At the beginning of the film the child Bruce Wayne is lifted from the tomblike cave of bats like Christ ascending to Heaven but Batman is a demon the whole film, and is called as much by someone he saves. Comparing Superman to Jesus is more than easy to do and Snyder never wastes an opportunity but since this Superman sucks so bad, and make no mistake he is a miserable chore, there’s very little pay off when he dies at the hand of the Devil (Lex Luthor vis a vis Doomsday).
The ending lasts a thousand minutes while Batman and Wonder Woman set up the Justice League sequel that begins filming next month. And though it is Friday, Sunday’s coming – as it goes. The last frame of the film sets up Easter just fine, except that this Superman sucks as Jesus.
I don’t think this movie is Batman and Robin (starring George Clooney) bad but it is no The Dark Knight. I enjoyed my movie going experience quite a bit and I’m looking forward to Wonder Woman’s solo movie – which is directed by someone else, thank God (not the god of Left Behind or Superman).
There have been rumors that the Justice League movies are going to be a bit more fun. Hopefully they’ll add brighter colors. Jason Momoa looks like he’s going to make Aquaman cool, Gal Gadot makes for a powerful and feminine Wonder Woman, and Affleck’s Batman is one of the cooler Batman’s second only to Keaton. I wish they would take Zak Snyder off a director duties and let him be a producer who informs the visuals but not the story because he seems to hate Superman.
Like Left Behind before it Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad Christian movie. The plotting is non-sensical, neither is overly concerned with the source material, they both turn Jesus into a scary sky monster (Superman’s eyes glow red as he glowers from the sky about to dispense justice against Batman), and they both spend too much time setting up sequels. But, I enjoyed myself while watching Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and hope that future installments are lighter fare.
Tommy is a musician and writer from the midwest who writes regularly at tommywelty.wordpress.com on Christianity, politics, and poetry. He’s had poetry published at The Curator. He is married to Alyssa and has a toddler named Atticus, named after Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird but not Atticus Finch from Go and Set a Watchman.