Son of God among people

‘Son of God’ came out in theaters this past weekend, and you’ll be shocked (not really) to find out that critics hated it while most audiences walked away happy. The movie raked in well over $26 million dollars, coming in second to Liam Neeson’s ‘Non-stop,’ where the bad guy is a veteran who loves the Constitution. I saw ‘Son of God’ this weekend and am baffled (not really) how it could have possibly scored a “26% rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. While it’s obvious that the movie was made by believers for believers (and those who may want to dip their toes into the pool of Christianity), it’s certainly not a “bad” film.

Perhaps critics were simply harsh because they feel it belongs on television instead of the big screen. That seems plausible. Given that, I decided to revisit another movie about Jesus, Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ It turns out the critics didn’t like that one too much either.

Son of God critics versus viewersHere is what I found: Rotten Tomatoes doled out a 49% “rotten” score for ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ while audiences overwhelmingly liked what they saw. Maybe if it made an extra $100 million over its already-impressive global haul it would have matched Rotten Tomatoes’ score for Neeson’s evil constitution-loving veterans flick…

Passion of the Christ rotten tomatoes‘The Passion of the Christ’ was a “film” by a “filmmaker.” Whether you like Mel Gibson as a person or not, the guy has talent. Audiences recognized it as well, and rewarded ‘The Passion of the Christ’ to the tune of $370 million at the box office in 2004. If I take my “Catholic hat” off and look at both movies from the point of view of someone who doesn’t particularly care for Christians, ‘Son of God’ would get the 49% “rotten” score and ‘Passion of the Christ’ would get a 65% “fresh” rating — but I’d shake my fist at Mel as I did it. There is really no way to read some of the critic’s reviews without coming to the conclusion that they simply don’t want Jesus on the big screen.

Son of God with child

Probably one of the best reviews I’ve seen on the movie comes from YouTube critic Jeremy Jahns:

I was really skeptical about this movie. Going into it I was like: “All right, it’s part of a mini-series. It’s going to feel like it’s made for TV.” And it does for the most part, but there there were a couple of things about this movie that I did like what they did with it. Going into this movie first and foremost I was hoping they would touch on the fact as to why people felt this Jesus had to die. Seriously, a lot of these Jesus movies gloss over that. They’re like “Hey it was Jesus and he died because he had to, it’s salvation and stuff. It’s magic.”

But I’m always left with that feeling, “No, like politically speaking why did they feel they had to kill this guy and why was it just such a big deal and what went into it? And this movie — actually to my surprise — touched on that very thing. …

This movie is one of two things: it’s either a really impressive made-for-TV movie or it’s a not-as-impressive theatrically released movie. … ‘Son of God’ engaged me where I wanted to be engaged. And it played the angle I was actually hoping it would play that I didn’t think it would play. It still feels like a made-for-TV movie for sure, especially in some scenes. However, I’ll still say ‘Son of God’ is a good time…”

There’s more to it, but you get the point. It’s a fair review. Head on over to Rotten Tomatoes if you want to see a slew of people who seemed to be looking for things to criticize from the first moment Diogo Morgado — who did a commendable job as Jesus — appeared on screen.

Son of God 1

The other thing that ‘Son of God’ did a good job with was showing the relationship Jesus had with his disciples. Think about it: Peter, the “rock” of the Church, denied Christ three times. Matthew was a tax collector. Judas betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus called imperfect people to Him. He took in misfits. He loved the unloved and forgave those who society said were unforgivable. While ‘Son of God’ does skip a lot of important parts of the Bible, those it did show were handled with care. It’s a solid movie to watch if there is someone in your life who has ever essentially asked, “What’s the big deal with this guy? Tell me about Him.”

With that said, for those who already believe in Christ I’d have to go with Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ as a must-see Jesus film. If you watched ten movies with Jesus in them and someone asked “Which one was directed by a Catholic?” there would be no question (which to this Irish-Catholic is a good thing).

Passion of the Christ

While ‘Son of God’ says, “Hey, there’s this guy and his name was Jesus and you should look into him,” Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ says: “Listen buddy, this guy went through some serious s**t — grueling gut-wrenching pain that you can not even fathom as you curl into bed at night with your XBox in 2014 — so check it out and appreciate what this man did for you.”

Jesus cross

When I read reviews by critics who obviously have a thing against religious people I can’t help but think of the Romans laughing, kicking, spitting and punching Christ as he carried his own cross to the place of his execution. Whether one believes Jesus was the Son of God or not, no serious person argues that He wasn’t a real man who was put to a gruesome death for what He preached. That is why guys like Jeremy Jahns ask: “Why was it just such a big deal [to kill Him] and what went into it?” Most people do not know the story aside from the watered-down version they might get as a kid, or (sadly) the jokes that are told about Christ on television sitcoms.

Jesus on cross

In short, if you’re curious about Christianity, then check out ‘Son of God.’ If you want to get a taste of the very real pain Jesus went through before his death, check out Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ.’ In both cases, if you go into each movie with an open mind, then you’ll walk away and realize that the critics at Rotten Tomatoes hold openly Christian films to an unfair standard.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

19 comments

  1. This movie sounds interesting. I never got around to seeing the Passion or last year’s “The Bible” miniseries, either but now I might check them both out and “Son of God” as well.

    It doesn’t surprise me one bit that critics would trash the films; they never like to miss an opportunity to bash Christians, when given the opportunity.

    And lastly, I heard all about “Non-Stop” and its lame villain… ugh. Now I won’t go see it. All too typical of modern progressive Hollywood.

    1. ‘Son of God’ was basically the shorted version of ‘The Bible.’ I’m not sure if they added anything or made the special effects better because I didn’t see the mini-series. I think if it was streaming on Netflix on a Saturday or Sunday that ‘Son of God’ is worth the watch.

      I’m partial to ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ but that only covers the betrayal of Jesus, His trial and execution. Gibson doesn’t hide the brutality of what they did to Him. It’s pretty tough to watch. The other thing I liked about ‘The Passion of the Christ’ was how Mary was portrayed. It was incredibly touching. It’s hard to imagine that His own mother had to witness that first hand…

      You get the feeling that Hollywood wishes they could change the story, so they’re angry because they can’t. They want to make Jesus a ladies man…or Judas some gay guy who betrayed Jesus when his advances were shut down. So what happens is you get critics who say it’s “boring” or whatever. Well, no, actually it isn’t. You’re just annoyed because you want the script to read as though maybe Jesus was just a magician or a time traveler.

    2. I’m with you, Doug. Mary’s portrayal was incredibly emotional. I also was overwhelmed by the resurrection scene — Jim Caviezel’s simple body language in this brief scene was incredible. He’s healed, he looks up, and then exits.

      I managed to hold my tears until I got to my car in the parking lot … and then let loose for about five minutes … 😦

    3. I was talking with my wife about it last night and we’re both like, “Yeah, that’s a good movie to see by yourself.” We joked that one day we’d have to watch it together so we could both be a sobbing wreck.

      To me, even if someone doesn’t believe that Jesus was who He said He was, His story is still incredibly powerful. If I didn’t believe in God, I still think that I would become an expert on who the man was because His story is just so fascinating.

      Jeremy Jahns’ review touched on another thing my wife and I were talking about, in that … there are countless good people who have been executed throughout history. They’re typically forgotten about and only studied by historians. But yet, this man captivates generation after generation after generation. I think it was Reagan who said that Jesus was either the greatest con man who ever lived or the real deal. Like Reagan, I’m going with the real deal. 🙂

  2. Believe it or not bit today I went to church to hear our wedding banns being read and then in the afternoon went to see non-stop in the afternoon.

    People can say what they like about Christians but you would be hard pressed to find a group of strangers so welcoming. I don’t go to church very often at all but I always feel good when I leave.

    I haven’t seen Passion of the Christ. I don’t really watch religious films as they are normally watered down versions of what happened.

    As for non-stop, I went to see it as I fancied a mindless action flick and that’s certainly what I got. An hour and a half of Liam Neeson running around on a plane before the big reveal that it was a former soldier who had waited 11-13 years to show how angry he was about 9-11 and to try and prove air travel is still unsafe.

    When the big reveal happened you could feel the atmosphere in the cinema change. People are getting fed up of the American serviceman/politician being the bad guy.

    Non-stop was looking like a solid 60-70% film until the last 10 minutes turned it into 20%.

    1. When the big reveal happened you could feel the atmosphere in the cinema change. People are getting fed up of the American serviceman/politician being the bad guy.

      If I was in the theater and that happened I would probably just start laughing. Talk about lazy writing.

    2. It was very lazy writing. It seemed that someone had an idea for a film which was simply “Die Hard On A Plane”. No explanation was put in to how the antagonists knew what they knew or in fact how they did what they did.

      The plot “twist” was annoying as the film had done some things right before then. It actually made Liam Neeson’s character be a naturalised US citizen who was originally from Northern Ireland and hinted at a possible IRA theme as the plane was a British plane.

    3. I am glad that we decided to go see “Son Of God” rather than “Non-Stop!” As much as I love Liam Neeson’s work, the ending is truly an abomination. A full regalia Muslim is the only supporter?

    4. I know I personally get sick and tired of Americans being portrayed as villains in movies and TV shows like that. I’ve said it before, but it seems to me that in progressive Hollywood, the only acceptable targets are white conservative Christian men. And then they throw in the military aspect to demonize America even further. Apparently Islamist militants aren’t considered worthy foes in Hollywood but Constitution-loving Americans are. It’s pathetic that they can’t conceive of any other type of villain.

      And I saw a few of the reviews of “Son of God.” My local rag of a newspaper gave it a negative review. One site I had the misfortune of stumbling upon asked a really stupid question, “Why are Jesus movies so boring?” I couldn’t help but shake my head. It’s as though they expect it to be something like Hercules or Perseus or Gilgamesh with action and battling monsters and the such. That is not who Jesus was and they’re (the critics) incapable of understanding that. It’s like you said, Doug, it’s as though they want to change the story but they’re angry that they can’t.

  3. I will see “Son of God” when it is out on DVD. I want to see the movie but I just don’t get out much. I believe the budget was much smaller but I from what I have seen it does a great job of sharing the message. I am happy to see that people still have the courage to share this message.

  4. One Biblical movie I think might be good is the upcoming Exodus movie with Christian Bale as Moses and directed by Ridley Scott. Scott is a great director, although he did direct “Kingdom of Heaven,” which featured some bizarre moral relativism between the Crusaders and the Saracens. Still, I think it might be worth checking out. Like “The Ten Commandments” and “Prince of Egypt” before it, it sets the story during the reigns of Seti I and Rameses the Great, with Moses and Ramses growing up as siblings, although it’s more likely that the Exodus took place a bit earlier than that, around the time of Thutmose III.

    Then there’s also Noah… a movie that I’m still up in the air about. Looks like it could be decent, although the setting looks more medieval than Biblical to me. Artistic license, I suppose.

  5. Raised in very Catholic home. Jesus very important to me. Have seen neither film. Might have seen Son of God but was disgusted to see the actor had very Caucasian features. Why can’t we be at peace with the fact that Jesus, his family, his followers look like our Arab and Israeli brothers and sisters. Yes, our Jesus probably looked like more like a middle eastern Muslim than the European film makers who clearly put loving effort into their film. Not seeing another Jesus flick until he looks realistic,

    1. Mary’s comment was one of the dopiest I’ve ever read. Who cares what ethnicity the actor playing Jesus is, as long as they play it well? The same miniseries had Samson (a Jewsih Nazrite) as a black man, and I don’t recall hear people complaining about that.

  6. Unfortunately, people who have Mary’s mindset seem to be prevalent. Now they’re freaking out about “Exodus: Gods and Kings” that features white actors as ancient Hebrews and Egyptians:

    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/exodus.gods.and.kings.faces.boycott.calls.over.all.white.lead.cast/38984.htm

    I looked at the cast list, and contrary to what the protestors are saying, the cast isn’t entirely white. Ben Kingsley is of Indian descent. Indira Varma is as well. Jethro is being portrayed by an Armenian actor. Maria Valverde is Spanish. And so on. But then again, liberals never let facts get in the way of a childish temper tantrum.

  7. I think the problem is less about critics wanting to bash Christianity and is more about critics having issues with how people present Biblical stories on film. Religion is a very important matter for a lot of people, and thus a lot of directors have a tendency to preach when they depict religious stories. This kind of screws up the film for anybody that doesn’t see it to be preached to. If the stories would be depicted straight without the emphasis on how wonderful Jesus is (they can show us that instead of telling us that) and without the continuous nods and winks to the audience they’re just assuming are Christians, then critics wouldn’t be bothered so much by them. Unfortunately, many of these films are cheesy when viewed from a critical perspective, or are too accusatory. The Passion of the Christ was two hours of a director shaming people for not loving Jesus. That doesn’t translate well to people viewing it from a critical perspective, because the focus is less on making a good movie and is more on beating a message into the minds of those watching it. This comes off as self-serving to critics… And if you are viewing it from a critical viewpoint, it is. It’s a matter of people letting their opinions spoil their work, not a matter of critics hating Christians. It’s like in a debate: if you look away from making your case and start making big statements without backing yourself up, no matter how right you are, you’ll lose the debate. You agree with the sentiment of the filmmakers, so you like their films. Critics don’t look at movies that way. I love the Holy Bible, but I’ve honestly been very disappointed with most of the films based on its stories… Few if any do it any justice.

    1. I love the Holy Bible, but I’ve honestly been very disappointed with most of the films based on its stories… Few if any do it any justice.

      Name one of the directors who you feel has done the bible justice, Electric Platylpus. You complain about “cheesy” films, and then you turn around and bash Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” Classic.

      Gibson didn’t “shame” anyone. He showed — just like you claim you want directors to do. If a director actually shows what Jesus went through, then it’s hard for the vast majority of people not to feel shamed for how they go about their everyday lives.

      Regardless, I’m interested in hearing what director you feel sets the bar for the bible on film.

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