Left Behind (Trilogy)

The following reviews are collected from the application on Facebook where I posted prior to creating GTTM. Facebook no longer indicates the date they were written, but I would guess they’re something like seven years old. With Nicolas Cage’s take on the Left Behind series coming out in the somewhat-near future, I thought it would be good to have my reviews of the originals up for easy comparison. I am listing the reviews for all three films on this page. enjoy.


Left Behind: The Movie

My experience with Revelations-inspired apocalypse movies is, admittedly, somewhat limited. The only similar movie that I have seen aside from Left Behind is Gary Busey’s Apocalypse III: Tribulation. So you’ll have to forgive me if this review is mainly a comparison of the two.

The two movies share, for all intents and purposes, the exact same plot: all of the Bible-believing Christians have suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving everybody else to wonder what the hell has happened and figure out what to do now. In both movies, a seemingly benign political figure emerges as the Anti-Christ and the main character is the only person in the world who knows how to save his friends and family.

Left Behind is undoubtedly the better movie. In Tribulation, basically only one person had disappeared and so it was difficult to take this supposed apocalypse seriously. It’s handled much better here, with people mysteriously vanishing on an airplane, leaving their clothing behind. Vehicular accidents abound as drivers evaporate into thin air, animals are left unattended by their owners’ empty clothing. The fear and confusion that would accompany such an event is given greater attention in Left Behind for sure.
A lot of recent reviews [on Facebook] refer to the bad acting in this film. I’m not here to claim that Kirk Cameron deserves an award for his role in this film — in one scene, he witnesses a friend’s murder and barely betrays an emotion — but compared to Tribulation, Escape from Hell, or Facing the Giants, the acting is not that bad.
One of the most irritating things about the movie, though, is the handling of the character Nicolae Carpathia. Carpathia is undoubtedly supposed to be the Anti-Christ from the first time he is introduced. He is Russian, after all. However, much of the movie has him striving for world peace and showing genuine concern for the people around him. In the last twenty minutes of the movie, his entire character changes to being absolutely evil. Before that, though, he was on television talking about destroying all nuclear warheads. I couldn’t help but think, “Wait… aren’t I supposed to not like him?”
And then there’s the problem of the ending. I suppose that the movie is meant as the first part of a series and therefore the fact that there are loose ends shouldn’t cause consternation. But Left Behind does more than leave loose ends. Our hero Buck (Cameron) realizes that Carpathia is the Anti-Christ… and that’s the end of the movie. Wait, isn’t there supposed to be some sort of falling action and resolution at the end of a movie? They might as well have written To be continued… over the last scene.

One thing about both Tribulation and Left Behind that struck me was how most of the movie works as an argument against religious beliefs. While certain characters seek scientific explanations for where so many people have disappeared to, there are others who immediately turn to the religion that they didn’t have before the rapture. In fact, both movies make reference to this with one of the supporting characters asking, “Aren’t you just using God as a crutch?”
The question is brought up, but evaded in both movies. Left Behind was particularly moving for me with the storyline of Rayford Steele, whose wife and son have disappeared. In his grief, he quickly turns to the Bible and spends the rest of the movie trying to convince his daughter (and whoever else gets near him) to just trust in his insanity, never thinking that he’s just using it as a coping mechanism, even after his daughter mentions it to him. If it weren’t for the fact that this is a Christian film and so all signs point to Jesus, he would function as a pitiable character who has turned to fairy tales to relieve his grief and guilt.
Until the evil side of Carpathia (or Mancuso in Tribulation) comes to light, he and the people around him are the only ones who have kept their sanity, using this global tragedy to help bring about world peace. Because this is a Christian film, Carpathia is of course using peace as a means to anarchy (huh?), but outside of Christian cinema peace does not equal war.
I appreciate that the movie thought to show people injured in auto accidents, but it did not deal with those who were fatally wounded from such accidents. Or what of the people who are in planes whose pilots have been sent to Heaven? Is there justice in their sudden deaths while Buck and Rayford get to soldier on? And what about the animals that don’t get to go to Heaven for some reason — the movie shows a mouse in a cage within an empty house. How terrible that that mouse will starve to death. And what of pregnant women? If all children are sent to Heaven, are the unborn sent as well?

There are so many incredible directions that the movie could have gone in its exploration of how people would react following the sudden disappearance of thousands. Unfortunately, the only line of thought that Left Behind spends any time on is discussing how great God is for not sending everybody to Hell. It’s a waste of a lot of potential.

In conclusion: Left Behind is probably the best Christian film that I have seen, but that’s really not saying much.

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

‘The Rapture’ has occured! The world has been turned on its head following the mysterious disappearance of thousands of people, global leader Nicolae Carpathia is the Anti-Christ, and it’s up to reporter Buck Williams (Cameron) and his rag-tag group of the saved to do their part in helping God to save the day. Hooray!

If you have not seen the first movie, it might be easy to forget that so many people are supposedly gone. Aside from the pictures that the characters look at with longing, there seem to be just as many people in the world as there normally are. I had the same problem with Apocalypse III starring Gary Busey: only one person, really, seemed to have disappeared.

In any case, the second in the Left Behind trilogy is a lot more meandering than its predecessor. Buck and Chloe are starting a tentative relationship, Rayford is contemplating whether or not he should pilot the Anti-Christ’s aircraft, and there is something going on at the famed ‘Wailing Wall’ — two men there who will prove that Jesus is the true Messiah — which, of course, Nicolae is trying to cover up.

The urgency and fear of the first movie is substituted by paranoia and indignance here. One scene has Buck talking furtively with Rayford on a cellular phone, ending his conversation with “God bless.” Immediately after saying that, a hand falls on his shoulder: it is Nicolae. Oh no, Buck, you should know that you are never to mention God in public during these politically correct end-times. Way to ramp up the persecution complex.
Another scene has Rayford trying to steal the contents of a speech from Carpathia’s email. I guess stealing isn’t a sin if the endsĀ  justify the means? In any case, the scene is supposed to be tense because everybody else on the plane is behind Carpathia 100%. When Rayford opens the email of the Anti-Christ, there are several other messages with subject lines such as “happy birthday!!!” and “10% discount”. It’s wonderful imagining the living incarnation of all evil shopping at, say, Bed Bath & Beyond. Maybe he’s… not evil?

Of course he is, I mean, he’s trying to convince the world that he is the Messiah. And hell, at one point, Rayford even sees his true visage (The Devil looks a lot like a normal human being, only with the eyes gouged out). But take out those things, and it’s easy to sympathize with the guy who walks out of the rebel church of Buck Williams & Co. After all, Carpathia is promoting nothing but peace… it is kind of strange to demonize somebody seeking peace. Especially when it’s based largely on a “murder” at the U.N. that nobody else saw. Hmm.

While Buck is trying to gain access to the Wailing Wall, Ivy (his atheist assistant) is hanging out with Chloe at a make-shift ICU for burn victims. By “ICU” what I mean is that Chloe sits next to people and watches them die while reading passages from the Bible. Ivy is initially averse to the entire proceeding (rightly so), but when she sees Chloe heroically read a passage from the Bible then watch a man die dramatically, Ivy begins to realize just how great one must be to put their faith in Jesus.

Rayford continues to be my favorite character: a truly tragic hero. He is putting so much time and effort into helping this resistance because he does not know how to bring his wife back from the dead. He is so immersed in this delusion of Heaven and Jesus and so on, that he has spent time trying to brainwash his daughter and acquaintances in the same belief. He’s even willing to lie and commit theft — in the name of God. Forgive him, for he knows not what he does…
Rayford is the most realistic of all the characters: a broken man clinging to whatever answers are provided to him first.

Left Behind: Tribulation Force doesn’t have as clear a path as the first movie did, and a lot of time is wasted on misunderstandings revolving around Buck and Chloe’s blossoming “relationship” (they are only mildly romantic once, with a peck on the cheek before Buck leaves for certain death). Although I much prefer the first installment, this film is still remarkably well put-together… for a Christian movie.

Left Behind: World at War

The moral of World at War, the third and final(?) chapter of the Left Behind trilogy, is this: a bigger budget does not a better movie make.

I’ve been fairly forgiving when it came to the previous two Left Behind films, attributing an unintended psychological dilemma to the protagonists. That is, I’ve seen in them the desperate need to find answers to why their family members have suddenly disappeared. Hence, the characters’ misguided turn toward religion as a coping mechanism.
By the third movie, though, Nicolae Carpathia has all but announced to the world that he is, indeed, the Anti-Christ. Rather than being an intimate story about how people cope with loss and come to terms with where they are now, this chapter of the movie is about waging war against the forces of evil.

We’re heading in a new direction here. That much is clear following a scene where the President and his Veep are talking in their limosine. The VP is trying to tell the President what he knows about Carpathia’s less than noble intentions when suddenly one of the SUVs in their motorcade explodes. For a movie series that previously relied on simpler effects, the explosion was certainly surprising. I admit that I jumped. Soon, more SUVs are blowing up, and then a badly-rendered CGI missile blows through the limosine’s window. Yep. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
But then the movie cuts to an underground wedding, and for some reason feels that the viewer needs to be present for the entire ceremony. This incredibly awkward change in pacing is just one of the many times that the movie will get started, then slam on the brakes and idle for ten minutes before throwing the action into over-drive yet again. Not only is it clumsy, but it only serves to make these apparently ‘dramatic’ scenes come across as boring and irritating.

I’ve gone fairly easy on Kirk Cameron in the last two movies. Their focus was on the characters’ internal struggle, which allowed Cameron and Brad Johnson to furrow their brows and seem to be acting with relative effectiveness. In World at War, everything is out on the table… and yet our boy Kirk can’t muster up even a single teardrop. When he finds that his wife has been poisoned and will likely die, the most he can do is that same old furrowed brow. What a bad actor he is (this actually kind of gives me more hope for the comedy value of the upcoming film Fireproof).
Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson) was my favorite character in the previous movies because he seemed like the most tragic character. His soul had been crushed so much by the loss of his wife and son that he was all too easy to convert to Christianity. None of those psychological leanings are here at all. Steele and his new wife (where did she come from?) don’t really serve any purpose whatsoever in the film, except for sitting around and looking worried. They honestly have no bearing on the plot.

So now the President has to go toe-to-toe with the Anti-Christ, while Buck (Cameron) has to pace back and forth in his expensive penthouse, and Buck’s wife contracts a mysterious disease that seems to be incurable.
And everybody just sits around the diseased people without surgical masks on, eating the same communion sourdough bread and drinking from the same communion wine glass as the people who are writhing and sweating in beds set up around the church. I couldn’t help but joke, “I wish one of us had gone to medical school instead of deriding higher education as liberal propaganda.” Luckily for the characters in Left Behind, blind faith is the best medicine there is.

The President (Louis Gossett Jr.) goes in circles — meeting with Carpathia, discussing the meeting with his secret band of counter-informants, meeting with Carpathia again, discussing the meeting once more. When he finally confronts Carpathia directly, he is shocked to find out that — surprise! — he is the Anti-Christ. Which… we knew from the beginning, so it’s not much of a surprise at all. And even though that’s not quite the end of the movie, it might as well be, because nothing else happens.
There is no closure. There is no happy ending. Whatever plot there was just kind of fades out and the credits roll.

In short, even for a Christian flick, this is a remarkably bad movie.

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