2 April 2016 | bkrauser-81-311064
Welp, at Least It's Better Than the Last One
God's Not Dead 2 follows an ensemble cast (some old, some new), all flung into the sticky tendrils of a flimsy courtroom drama surrounding a history teacher and her answer to a contentious classroom question. Because Ms. Wesley (Hart) had the temerity, the gall, nay the malicious, impudent daring to draw parallels to Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, the public school, teachers union, local government, and the ACLU are all out for blood. Will Ms. Wesley be able to continue professing her faith? Will she lose her job? Will Reverend Dave (White) finally be able to start his car? And did Tituba really see Goodie Proctor with the devil?
Okay let's dissect this bloated corpse of a movie by first highlighting the good parts. Director Harold Cronk has sure learned a lot since 2014 though some of the elevated crane shots and glossy establishing scenes may have something to do with a bigger budget. His ability to manipulate his audience to well up in a flurry of sanctimonious pride and self-adulation is not to be underestimated. Thankfully, God's Not Dead 2 doesn't outright vilify atheists and doubters like it's prequel; in-fact one of our heroes, scrappy attorney Tom Endler (Metcalfe) is an agnostic who doesn't become a convert by the end credits. Also as far as acting goes, returning cast member Paul Kwo is given much more to do than be a walking Asian stereotype. He exhibits a sincerity we never saw before and one can't help but think if the movie were about him, it'd be a hundred times better. Then there's Melissa Joan Hart who truth be told is a much better central figure than Shane Harper, who's pious college freshman was more weaselly than anything.
Yet what the movie gets wrong, it gets very wrong; starting with it's representation of a legal system gone rogue. While confusing and conflating basic legal concepts like "precedent" and "discovery" and "defendant", the film nevertheless aims its sights on drumming up accusations of religious persecution while playing to the very tired culture war clichés we've gotten sick of twenty years ago. Much like the film's predecessor, God's Not Dead 2 isn't based on any specific case of religious persecution. It's more cobbled together out of a few lower court cases taken out of context and those dubious Facebook posts your angry Uncle from Omaha wishes were true but aren't. In a side story, returning character, actual producer and Keystone Kops impersonator David A.R. White has to turn in three years worth of notes on his sermons to the government because of...reasons. While doing so he confronts a grotesque bureaucratic flunky who warns him in an exchange so over-the-top you'd swear the movie was hinting at a vast Atheistic conspiracy.
In response to the film being called an example of "fake persecution" by an Atheist blogger, White stated, "It's an interesting thing, because, if it wasn't real, why do they get so offended by it...I don't think it would annoy people if it wasn't true." Of course if we followed that logic every teething toddler at a Dennys would be considered a sage. Religious persecution is a big deal worldwide as explicitly stated when Reverend Jude (Onyango) warns Martin of his plan to preach the gospel in Communist China. Despite Christianity being the largest religious doctrine in the world, Christians are harassed, discriminated against and oppressed in many places all over the world. And yes it does sometimes happen in the good 'ol US of A though despite some limitations you can still express your religion at home, school, work, church, billboards, park benches, television, radio, magazines and newspapers. Why cheapen a very real problem with a false conceit? Especially one even committed Atheists and the ACLU would side with the plaintiff.
Thankfully the main takeaway in God's Not Dead 2 is something most people can get behind; we shouldn't stifle religion nor any exchange of ideas or perspectives, even in something as revered (or in this case vilified) as the hallowed halls of a public school. That message is certainly a cut above God's Not Dead's (2014) all Atheists are whining children who never got what they wanted for Christmas. With a door wide open for yet another sequel to this drivel, I honestly would rather hear the rabble in Inherit the Wind (1960) sing "Give Me That Old Time Religion" in a loop for two hours.