Sitting down to write about Son of God, I feel like a guy on YouTube reviewing frozen dinners. That is to say, I’m pretty sure I’m wasting my time. Everybody already knows what to expect from a microwaved meal, don’t they? They have their purpose in the marketplace: unremarkable, serviceable, with a built-in fan base that doesn’t care whether the Salisbury steak is particularly tasty. They just want something to satisfy their hunger.
And so it is with too much of today’s evangelical Christian entertainment. That’s a real shame given how much superb art has been inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. His is an awe-inspiring story, whether you’re a believer or not. If you are, then it goes this way: God becomes a flesh-and-blood man, sacrifices himself to redeem the sinfulness of mankind, and opens the gates of heaven through a new covenant with his people. If you’re not, it’s: a fellow of humble origins, preaching peace and love for all mankind, is brutally killed by the powerful elite and through his death transforms the world for millennia.
Unfortunately, when believers are in charge and value proselytizing over concerns for the quality of their art, the result is the sort of tepid, lifeless works you might find on the Hallmark Channel. An exception would be Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which brought the death of Jesus to the screen with a visceral reality, even if some critics were justified in calling it “torture porn.” Gibson’s Jesus bled (and bled, and bled), but more importantly, he came alive through Jim Caviezel’s performance, and it was impossible not to feel the horror of his final hours right along with him.
By contrast, in Son of God he’s too (and this perhaps sound strange) godlike. As portrayed by actor Diogo Morgado, Jesus seems like a mere cypher rather than a full-blooded character. He feels strangely detached from all that’s happening around him. Perhaps because of the television-budget production values, potentially dramatic moments, as when Jesus invites Peter (Darwin Shaw) to join him in walking on water in the midst of a violent storm, lack all sense of reality and thus all their dramatic power. They’re no more moving then watching a Sunday school class act out the same episodes.
Yet it’s clear that there’s audience with an appetite for this stuff. Last spring the History Channel garnered record ratings for it miniseries The Bible, and so its producers have condensed that show’s New Testament segments into this theatrical release. Roma Downey is still present as Jesus’ mother Mary, who’s had a little too much Botox. Noticeably absent are scenes of Jesus being tempted in the desert by a Satan with a resemblance to President Obama.
The film ends with a message that the Second Coming is nigh, which believers may find reassuring. Non-believers may find it ominous, though I’m sure not why they’d see this movie anyway.