Confession time: I’ve never seen God’s Not Dead. All that I know about the evangelical Christian drama is that it grossed the staggering amount of $62 million from just a $2 million budget. As you could have easily guessed, this monumental success immediately led to similar films of its ilk being greenlit. Case in point: War Room’s $73.7 million gross from just a $3 million budget back in August proved that God's Not Dead wasn’t a one-off triumph.
Despite these huge grosses, these films have been mostly dismissed by critics for their ham-fisted celebrations of Christianity, and God’s Not Dead 2 is guilty of the same crimes against filmmaking. What God’s Not Dead 2 does have going for it is it actually has a hugely impressive cast. When I say "hugely impressive cast," I mean that it includes actors that you’ve probably actually heard of.
Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina The Teenage Witch) takes the lead role as a high school teacher who finds herself embroiled in a court case that could end her career after she answers a student’s question about Jesus. Jessie Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives, John Tucker Must Die, Dallas) plays her young attorney, who goes up against Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, RoboCop)’s prosecutor in front of Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters)’s presiding judge.
But this esteemed cast is unable to elevate God’s Not Dead 2, as it’s still turgid to watch unfold. While Ray Wise, Jessie Metcalfe, and Ernie Hudson showcase some semblance of talent, every other actor is painfully wooden, while the film's $5 million budget doesn’t add any nuance, mood, or panache to its production.
Instead, Brian Shanley’s cinematography is blindingly bright, Will Musser’s musical cues are always trembling in the background so that audiences know exactly what emotion they should be feeling at any given time, and the script consists almost entirely of expositional dialogue and dull, long-winded sermons about the existence of Jesus.
Despite all these problems, I will admit that director Harold Cronk actually builds the film nicely, creating a smooth rhythm in conjunction with editor Vance Null, while distributing scenes between its ensemble in a concise and well-structured manner. It’s just unfortunate that the content inside each of these scenes is overwhelmingly tedious and bias. There’s also a vague hint that, if any of this material was handled correctly, God’s Not Dead 2’s plot could have sparked an interesting debate on the battle between church and state, as there’s some good to-ing and fro-ing in the court room.
But God’s Not Dead 2 isn’t interested in such a discussion. Instead, it is bogged down and wildly dovetails at the whim of its religious agenda. And that’s exactly the point of the film. God’s Not Dead 2 and Pure Flix Entertainment know who this film is aimed at, and they go for the jugular in their attempt to preach to the converted. But that’s not cinema. It’s propaganda. Laborious, painful-to-watch propaganda.