The third installment in the surprisingly popular God’s Not Dead series continues the franchise’s M.O. of speaking to Christian fears of persecution. It builds its foundation upon the concerns of people who find themselves knee deep in a culture war. Because of this, and like so many other Christian-centered films that have come before it, God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness is (literally, I suppose) preaching to the choir.
I’d call it propaganda, but propaganda sometimes has the opportunity to change people’s minds. A Light in the Darkness isn’t going to sway the debate on free speech on campus or give an atheist a moment of religious enlightenment. It’s there to reinforce ideas to the converted and, therefore, is critic-proof as a piece of cinema. And beyond an intellectual exercise, where it obviously and very calculatedly works from a flimsy stacked deck, A Light in the Darkness also doesn’t work as entertainment (where it’s little more than a schmaltzy courtroom drama) or as an exhibition of cinematic style (where it’s solid and professional enough).
What’s both the most interesting and frustrating aspect of the movie, however, is how it lets off the gas a bit compared to the inflammatory nature of its predecessors (the first movie had an atheist get run over by a car and a godless liberal contract cancer). God’s Not Dead is a bit more measured and reasonable this time around, something that’s both charming and confounding because — again — the movie isn’t going to be seen by anyone who doesn’t already agree with its worldview. I mean, it’s considerate of the filmmakers to make a certifiably bizarre and angry Christian movie, but I’m also realistic to ask what’s the point.
Perhaps that’s a strange stance to take, but it comes solely from a place of self-preservation since it lacks any substance — wrongheaded or not — that could make the film interesting. Imagine sitting through a movie as bland as A Light in the Darkness just wishing for something intellectually offensive to happen. Instead, the movie defuses much of what made the original God’s Not Dead (2014) so incendiary — and likely so successful. This is a subdued installment, one that deals with the firebombing of Reverend Dave’s (David A.R. White) church with some actual historical context around terrorism aimed at black churches.
There’s an actual honesty and understanding here that makes the film less than painful, even while the rest of the movie is yet another bland treatise on the free speech of Christians being encroached upon on college campuses, tied up in a plot based around eminent domain. The movie’s eventual depiction of faith as a personal struggle is commendable, but the movie’s inevitable descent into corniness isn’t the right mode of transit for such a topic, making for a pretty dull, pretty silly, pretty forgettable movie. Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material. Now playing at AMC Classic River Hills, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.