Catholicism classes everywhere, rejoice! Teachers now have another biblical epic worthy of a Friday treat; one that praises the word of the Lord with little inquisitive substance. Risen, directed by Kevin Reynolds (of Waterworld fame), has all the makings of a deceptive religious adventure, and plenty of bias to go around. Believers will find the holy spirit surging through their soul, while fence-teeterers might leave overstuffed, and a bit disillusioned, by a message that never grows larger than two simple words: “Have faith.” If you’ve got it, great! If you don’t? Find it! There. Risen has solved years of bloodshed and despair in the name of unseen deities. Too bad I had my money on the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
Joseph Fiennes stars as Clavius, a Roman Tribune who witnesses the resurrection of Jesus through his own eyes. Clavius’ perspective is that of a third party, so we’re granted a doubter’s view into Luke’s story of crucifixion, apostles, and a whole lot of prayer. Nothing strays from the Bible, as Pilate (Peter Firth) orders the execution of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) aka Jesus Christ. His followers congregate and watch the brutal injustice unfold, saddened and distraught, but Yeshua miraculously rises from the grave. Clavius first refuses to accept his own sight, yet as Yeshua and his apostles spread the word of love, hard evidence becomes fact. Clavius, an intelligent man, learns the ways of faith with a little help from Yeshua – a path that leads to peaceful enlightenment.
First off, don’t be fooled by deceptive marketing that bills Risen as an action epic. This wolf in sheep’s clothing starts off with a short, shaky-cam siege sequence that puts Clavius in a battle between spears and rocks, then it’s right back to Jerusalem. Clavius’ army isn’t called upon again, as plotting quickly shifts from possible buddy adventuring (Tom Felton plays his apprentice of sorts, Lucius) to “Hallowed be thy name” propaganda. It’s the kind of heavy-handed conversion tactics that’ll immediately turn off mainstream viewers expecting something along the lines of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (OK, maybe not THAT out-of-touch). Still, Risen doesn’t care to be anything but after-mass CCD fodder for those apostles among us today, like a joyous preacher spouting rhetoric after a few too many sips from the blood of Christ.
It’s unfortunate, because Reynolds’ mismanagement of blind faith (along with co-writer Paul Aiello) makes for an off-putting religious experience. Not that I’m a non-believer or heathen, but Risen does nothing to quell doubt. Yeshua acknowledges Clavius’ disbelief, and poses the following: “Imagine the doubt for those who will never see my miracles” (paraphrasing). This is the part where Atheists and cautious souls will roll their eyes, simply because Risen never dives into a deeper meaning of religion and faith.
Reynolds’ depiction of God’s will is over-sweetened to sappy Hallmark levels, as mainstays of Yeshua’s resurrection lore are dealt with on the basest level. Simon pulls a hearty net of scrumptious fish aboard his boat upon Yeshua’s instruction, a leper is cured, and Yeshua teleports on command – but these are just retellings. Stories we’ve heard before. For those seeking a deeper meaning in Christ’s words, they will not be found in this surface value, pat-on-the back. Believe to believe, because, well, faith is good!
Pulling us into Yeshua’s miraculous rebirth is Joseph Fiennes, who embraces a statuesque Roman confidence. His warrior spirit creates a well-balanced amount of doubt, and his pedestrian view into biblical anomalies does help viewers keep a more personal interaction with God’s master plan. Elsewhere, Cliff Curtis smiles softly as Yeshua soothes our fears and Tom Felton bumbles unnecessarily as an unbelievable soldier, but then Risen is goofily hijacked by Yeshua’s Twelve Dwarfs…I mean, Apostles. Yeshua’s rag-tag posse are either jumping for joy around Yeshua, or scratching their heads when he vanishes yet again. They’re one-dimensional, traveling hippies who preach love and understanding, and nod their heads with “I TOLD YA SO!” condescension every time Yeshua pulls off another act of holy fulfillment. Believing is so easy – just look how happy they are!
Risen is a hot, steaming plate of biblical self-promotion that’s certainly not for everyone. Those already invested in the word of God won’t bat an eye at Reynolds’ weightless assessment of Yeshua’s inexplicable resurrection, but for anyone seeking a worldly understanding, Clavius’ journey is about one singular God. That, in itself, is enough to weaken scripted words of human equality, almost condescending itself through an unfair, streamlined bias. This movie is about the rising of Christ, made for Christians who read the Bible as a bedtime story. Just understand what you’re walking into and disappointment can be avoided. That’s my parting advice, at the expense of pissing off entire worshipping congregations – but it’s probably too late for that, anyway.
Risen simply tends to its flock, ignoring outside views through yet another, by-the-books biblical rehash.