After watching writer/director/cameraman/editor Chris Tempel’s Leap, the first in a parkour Rapture series, I felt compelled to watch its sequel. The second part of the trilogy had ten times the budget of the first movie (yep, Leap 2 had a $2000 budget) and it is ten times as crazy. This movie begins after Supreme Leader Yugov has taken control of the combined United States and Europe (the Eurnited States of Opemerica?) and instituted mandatory surgical implantation of microchips to prove how much of an Anti-Christ he is. We will later learn that the real Anti-Christ is the Vatican… which is apparently not part of Europe in the world of the Leap series, because apparently Vatican City has retained a distinct identity outside of the Eurnited States.
Before that, though, we are treated to a U.S. Senator (I guess the Senate still exists… it’s not really clear what form of government the Eurnited States has adopted) arguing on national television that Christians have been in control for 2,000 years and that it is time for a change because there is no God. As ever, this movie goes for realism—because it is totally believable that a U.S. Senator would make this kind of statement on national television. There’s widespread Christian “persecution” going on in the country at this very moment, doncha know? A journalist asks who decides what’s right or wrong if there is no God, to which the Senator replies that we, human beings, do. “I’m telling you: that won’t work,” the journalist responds, as if it were a political proposal instead of a description of the way things already are.
More information is revealed. Upon taking control of the Eurnited States, Yugov’s first act was to outlaw faith! Nobody can purchase groceries or goods except with the microchip implanted in their hands, so Flyboy and his new group of parkour enthusiasts (they call themselves “the Leap Crew”) have to evade the authorities and buy all their goods from a sympathetic Russian shopkeeper named Olya. Olya is played, without explanation, by the girl who played Flyboy’s traitorous girlfriend Sweetheart in the first film. This casting choice seems to be referenced when a government goon comes in to bust up the store and derisively calls her “sweetheart”, but otherwise there is no explanation for the change in character. It becomes especially confounding when Sweetheart appears later in the film, only now played by a new actress. Scenes from the original movie are shown as flashbacks, but edited so that it appears the new actress was playing Sweetheart all along. The weird re-casting of a pivotal character calls to mind another trilogy for which there was no demand: Atlas Shrugged. That series re-cast its heroine for each successive installment—it is conceivable that the same could happen before the third in the Leap series is released. Tempel’s production blog already suggested in 2012 that Alexander Bonds, the actor who plays Flyboy, might not return as a result of a theological dispute about the anti-Catholic bent that the movies have been taking. (It appears that issue has since been cleared up.)
After the initial news about Yugov outlawing faith, the story changes suddenly and Yugov cedes control to the Vatican, the real Anti-Christ, which institutes a “universal faith”. The Leap Crew is apoplectic because this new universal faith is based on “what is right for the human race, and not on ancient writings.” How terrible! Moreover, the Vatican has announced that women and gays can preach as part of this new church. The horror! If you are confused by this sudden turn from the Catholic Church, which until now has excluded women from power and shamed gay people, you are not alone. A character in the movie asks why a religious power would toss out the Bible. Flyboy’s response is typically non-explanatory: “Maybe they never used it to begin with.”
So what makes the Catholic Church so evil? Does it have something to do with the terror of the Inquisition? Is it because they’ve been aiding and abetting child molestation for years? Is it related to their implication in the spread of HIV in Africa because of opposition to condoms? Nope, it’s because they say the Sabbath is on Sunday instead of Saturday. Yep. That’s the surest sign that they’re in league with the Devil – after all, if Satan really wanted to attack God, the very best way to do that would be to make sure everybody worshiped God a day late! That conniving trickster! Now, this may seem like literally the most inconsequential thing ever, but you just don’t understand how off-His-rocker God is. In Exodus 31:15, which is apparently still to be followed to the letter, the Bible clearly states: “Whosoever does work on the Sabbath shall surely be put to death.” Therefore, by misleading the people into thinking that the Sabbath is Sunday when it is actually Saturday, the Catholic Church is condemning everybody to death. Because this is a transgression that surely requires death—this is a reasonable punishment that should not be questioned.
The Vatican in Leap is so adamant about damning everybody’s souls that they require mandatory attendance at mass on Sunday; failure to attend is itself punishable by death. Olya, who says her parents were “tooken” a year back for arms smuggling (a charge she doesn’t seem to deny), is of course quickly dispatched for failure to abide by these draconian new rules. After she is killed by a government goon, Flyboy and another member of his Leap Crew have a tepid fight scene in her store, each fighter attacking with cardboard boxes and cans of creamed corn as weapons. The Leap Crew ultimately wins the fight, so the government realizes it needs to get tough. That’s when they send in Luke, a teen who has avoided getting the microchip in his hand not out of religious conviction but mere contrarianism; he will be a mole, ingratiating himself with the Leap Crew and relaying information back to the government agents.
Early on during his stay with the Leap Crew, Luke asks how they know their beliefs are true. Flyboy responds with a horrifying story about a pastor who holds a boy’s head under water until he comes close to death. Upon letting the boy up, the pastor stated: “You have to want the truth as much as you wanted air just now.” It’s not really clear how that answers the question. It seems more like no answer at all. Luckily, a girl on the Leap Crew interjects with this solid logic: “Look at it this way: if the atheists are right, what does it matter? But what if they’re wrong and we’re right?” On a surface level, this argument is persuasive. If the atheists are right, all we’ve done is waste our lives believing in utter and obvious nonsense; if we’re right, we get to high-five God in Heaven while watching everybody who disagreed with us being tortured forever. Great deal, right? The problem is one the movie itself sets up. There aren’t just two choices—atheism and Seventh Day Adventism. To wit, what if the Catholics are right? What if there is a God, but your insistence on a Saturday Sabbath has been pissing him off for years? Or what if the Hindus are right and your hamburger eating ways have doomed you to eternal sorrow? If putting all your cash on Seventh Day Adventism is an attempt to hedge your bets, you need to get out of the casino immediately because you surely shall leave penniless.
Based on the unimpeachable argument “what if we’re right?”, Luke is transformed. Actually, he is also convinced because a member of the Leap Crew touches his sprained ankle and miraculously heals it. So, there’s that, too. He fully commits to the Leap Crew’s cause, which raises the ire of the government. To express its discontent, the government sets off five sticks of dynamite that have been attached to the water heater in Luke’s apartment. After barely escaping the explosion, he lets out a frustrated, “Argh!” That perfectly encapsulates the fear, anger, and grief he feels in the moment following the destruction of his home. He meets up with the Leap Crew, all of whom brush off the story about Luke’s home exploding because they’re about to do some illegal street preaching. They call a crowd together, encouraging them to wake up and reject the universal faith forced upon them by the Catholics. “God can’t be forced on anyone,” they assure. Yes, God can’t be forced on anyone, so put your faith in Seventh Day Adventism or face God’s wrath. The government breaks up the street preaching and captures Flyboy, who is thrown into a green-screened dungeon, complete with the echoing sound of dripping water.
It is here that he meets Sweetheart, played by a different actress. She has been thrown into the dungeon alongside him, although it is unclear for what. Flyboy is immediately repelled by her because, as you’ll remember from the first movie, she held a gun to his head, murdered his friend Tina, and chased him across the City intending to murder him, too. Sweetheart now assures Flyboy that she has changed. “I didn’t kill Tina,” she claims, “it was my partner. Why don’t you believe me?” Indeed, why wouldn’t Flyboy immediately trust a woman who once attempted to murder him—who is suspiciously the only other person in this green-screen dungeon, who just so happens to be a former enemy, and who is making unsubstantiated claims that she is not evil anymore? Flyboy rightly tells her off and refuses to interact with her any furth—oh wait, no, sorry, he immediately trusts her and doesn’t find it at all peculiar that as soon as he agrees to trust Sweetheart, the door to the dungeon unlocks itself and swings open. There is definitely no reason to question that development!
Moreover, after their convenient escape, Flyboy takes Sweetheart back to the apartment where the rest of the Leap Crew are hidden. As he enters, he complains about having been captured by the authorities, but does not introduce Sweetheart. The other members of the Crew are understandably confused by her presence. Flyboy relents long enough to tell them that she is the ex-girlfriend who attempted to murder him and who killed Tina. The Crew, again quite reasonably, has additional questions about just why the hell she’s here right now. Flyboy acts irritated with their reasonable concerns, growling, “I’m hungry. We can play 20 Questions later.” Next, he goes into a discussion of the importance of following the 10 Commandments and how the Vatican is failing to obey them. As this discussion ends, a scout sees government goons coming up the stairs and the Leap Crew has to make a quick escape. Flyboy wraps his hand in a towel, smashes a car window, and steals the vehicle. Yes, almost immediately after extolling the need to follow the 10 Commandments, Flyboy breaks the 8th Commandment (“Thou shall not steal”).
Once on the road, the Leap Crew heads to the mountains. They have pinpointed a radio broadcast from a seeming ally as coming from the mountain. As they begin their hike, a random guy who has been living in the woods tells them that there is no radio tower on the mountain! And that’s the end of the movie. “There’s no tower up there,” is literally the last line of the movie before “To Be Continued…” is pasted over the screen. This is not an ending. It’s not even a suspenseful lead-in to the final slog of the trilogy because it means nothing at all to viewers. Okay, there’s not a radio tower on the mountain. So what?
Leap: Rise of the Beast is as ineptly made as its predecessor. The reason has nothing to do with the extremely limited budgets of the two movies. Both are so far separated from anything resembling real life that it’s incredible. They’re poorly conceived, theologically flimsy, badly plotted, and lean heavily on cliche (a typical conversation: “Who died and put you in charge?” “You did.”). These are fundamental problems, not funding problems. I’ve no doubt that the final entry in the trilogy, which is as yet incomplete, will be as much a creaking mess of implausible story, characters acting nonsensically, and theological arguments that don’t even try to be convincing.
And I can’t wait to see it.