It is easy to confuse criticism as a targeted attack, especially if you don’t take criticism well to begin with. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but every time a film like this one is released, I get the same feedback about my review from a few people. They say that I didn’t understand the film, or that I’m a sinner verging on blasphemy, or worse things that would make a serial killer blush. When I refer to “a film like this,” I am talking about films with a narrow and specific audience in mind. In this case, it would be the Evangelical Christian base (and to a lesser extant Nicolas Cage fans). I’m not here to talk about how targeting such a niche market limits the film’s financial success, or even mention the irony behind how a story based on a religious tome’s apocalyptic prediction is being relegated to the “science fiction” genre. I’m also not here to argue the validity of the religious beliefs in question, or any lack thereof. Instead, I’ll do what I came here to do, and critique Left Behind‘s structure, character development, story progression, etc.
The apocalypse always comes on a seemingly normal day, and the Rapture is no exception, but first we must meet the Steele family. The father, Rayford (Nicolas Cage), is a loving, caring person. So much so that he has more than enough love to give to a stewardess, Hattie (Nicky Whelan), whom he has been leading on and making think he’s single when he is actually married. His wife is the mother of two, Irene (Lea Thompson), who just recently became a “hardcore Christian” and is trying to get the rest of her family to join her, but at the same time is pushing them away with the same method. The one most affected by the mom’s convertist pressures is the daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), whose cynical skepticism has made her keep her distance from her family. She decides to visit for her father’s birthday, but ends up running into him at the airport on his way out of town. Like ships passing in the night, she is able to say “hi” and “bye” to him while also finding out about his plans of infidelity with a stewardess.
Luckily it isn’t all bad, because she also runs into famed global journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), who Chloe saves from a religious fanatic. They hit it off, exchange phone numbers, and then go their separate ways. Buck goes on the plane, and delivers a message to Rayford from his daughter, while Chloe goes on to her family home. After the mom and daughter play a quick game of Missionary and Heathen, Chloe storms out to the mall and takes her brother with her. Then, out of nowhere, everything changes, and that’s when the film’s true face is revealed.
In this reboot of the Left Behind film franchise, we see them take a more action-oriented approach to the film. Not only that, but it is also made into a comedy. Everything make sense once you realize this film is a comedy. The cheesy musical score, Nic Cage’s clearly photoshopped head on a faux family portrait, and the over-the-top actions just in the first 15 minutes should have been an indicator, but somehow it seems to be very serious, mainly due to Nic Cage’s acting. Once the Rapture comes and goes, the veil comes off and everything falls into place. On the ground, you see damage, destruction, and disturbingly bad CGI happen behind a frantic, over-the-top Cassi, who spends much of the time running around screaming, being terrified, and dodging falling biplanes. All Cassi is missing is the Benny Hill chase music for her scenes to have the full comedic effect they’re intended to. In the sky, we have what sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, with Nic Cage, a drug addict, a frantic mother (Jordin Sparks), a little person and a Muslim man all arguing in the first class section of a plane.
There is a common problem that bothers me when it is done in films about the Apocalypse: Pretending knowledge of it isn’t mainstream. Everyone is aware of even the rudimentary elements of zombies. There is death, resurrection, and then full-on flesh-eating. So when a modern film is presented with all of these symptoms, and nobody in the film even mentions this as the slightest possibility, I find that unrealistic, even by fictional film standards. In this case, we are talking about the Rapture. It is fairly common knowledge (especially with all the YouTube prank videos on the subject), even to the non-believers, that the symptoms would include mass vanishings with the possible remnants of clothes being left behind. For some inexplicable reason, it takes the majority of the film for a drug addict to realize that she vaguely remembers hearing a story about this when she was a little girl.
Other than that minor problem, everything else is set on this bombastic, apocalyptic comedy. Especially the over-exaggerated collapse of society post-Rapture. Its depiction of how quickly society would crumble just adds to the outrageous humor we have seen so far, which is another indicator that this is not a sobering drama, or else it would realistically depict post-Rapture civilization as something more like HBO’s The Leftovers.
It is good to see a film on such a typically preachy, somber subject matter not take itself seriously, even verging on parody. Seeing Nic Cage in a film that was meant to be funny, and not just one that comes off as unintentionally funny, is a great relief to see. This film could have been this year’s more subtle version of This is the End if it would have similarly pushed the envelope (and inserted more irreverence), but as it stands it is humorous enough. Left Behind shows us how funny you can make a tale about the end of the world by just adding over-the-top performances and TV movie-level special effects. Hold on, I’ve just been informed this was not intended to come off as a comedy. That’s what I get for not watching the trailer ahead of time. Well, that changes everything now, doesn’t it?
Rating: As a comedy film – ★★★★★★(6/10 stars) // As a serious film – ★(1/10 stars)
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