Left Behind, the much-anticipated film about the beginning of the end of the world, is exactly what you think it is: a Christian movie starring Nicolas Cage. That the Academy Award-winning actor and star of National Treasure, Leaving Las Vegas, and The Croods is playing the lead role in a film with obvious motivations to evangelize becomes abundantly clear early on, and that fact is born again and again (and again) for the better part of two hours.
Amid this cinematic feature about strangers who find themselves having to be with each other in the aftermath of an event in which millions disappear worldwide, it’s impossible to forget that Left Behind is a Christian movie starring Nicolas Cage. Why? Because the strategically placed Bibles, the awkward and forced theological debates, the not-so subtle Christian messages, the unrealistic religious tension, and Nicolas Cage are always present to remind us that we’re watching a movie made by evangelicals for evangelical purposes. Ooh, and look, there’s Nicolas Cage.
But overt Christian messages and Cage’s omnipresence are not the only reasons why Left Behind is a terrible movie. And yes, it’s indeed terrible—god-awful, a less interesting, more convoluted version of the original Left Behind. Yes, this Vic Armstrong-directed “apocalyptic thriller” is Left Behind’s second coming to the big screen. Those hoping that this Left Behind is a beefed-up, more sophisticatedly produced, and action-packed (perhaps better?) version of its original—a Cloud Ten production that released in 2000 and featured Kirk Cameron in the starring role—will be sorely disappointed.
While some of the special effects are a bit more grandiose than the outdated effects happening around Kirk Cameron’s head in his Left Behind, other than the names of characters and a few recognizable-yet-tweaked storylines this remake pays little resemblance to its predecessor. Which is actually a shame, really, because the original Left Behind, though hardly a good movie, did at least include something of an actual story. Yes, it was terrible. But compared to 2014’s Left Behind, it’s an epic.
In this new Left Behind, the prophetic narrative first told in Jerry Jenkins’ and Tim LaHaye’s multimillion-selling novel, also called Left Behind, is all but missing. Though the screenplays for both the original and its reborn successor were written by the same duo, Paul LaLonde and John Patus, and both focus on what happens to a small group of people following the return of Jesus Christ, fans of the book and of the Dispensational theology on which its based will likely find little more than its mission to proselytize to celebrate in Armstrong’s new tale.
But the true apocalypse of this new Left Behind—what makes it far worse than that bad original—is that it’s a soulless Christian movie starring Nicolas Cage. Which is ironic, since the idea of “soul” is such an integral part of Christianity and Christianity is such an integral part of Left Behind.
And though the theology of Left Behind is strange and unbelievable, it also could, in the right hands, inspire a hell of a story. But that’s what’s missing in here; this so-called apocalyptic thriller is void of a story—Left Behind is about as close to being storyless as you can get before being called static.
Even in spots where a story happens to evolve, it’s so formulaic, so cheesy, so embarrassing that it offers no real reason to care or heck, even believe that the characters we meet in Left Behind are actually human and encountering a life-changing event, let alone something that supposedly is about to change everything they know to be true about the world. The filmmakers are too busy using their characters as megaphones in order to tell us what they believe is true, that the return of Jesus is imminent and you better be ready.
There’s always a message, rarely a storyline.
During the first 32 minutes of Left Behind, the message is this: Christians are nut jobs. That’s the mantra we hear when we meet Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage). Steele is a husband, a father of two, and an airline pilot who’s having an affair with a flight attendant because his wife is cheating on him with—wait for it—Jesus.
Yes, Jesus. Apparently, after converting to evangelical Christianity, Irene Steele (Lea Thompson) turned into the kind of Bible thumper that would make Rick Santorum blush, and her constant attempts to get Rayford to trust in Jesus have put a strain on their relationship. But Irene must be annoying because even her daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), a sophomore in college, can’t stand to be around her.
Which is why Rayford volunteered to work on his birthday, because his wife is in love with Jesus but also because he wants to rendezvous in London at a U2 concert (yes, a U2 concert) with his lover, Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan), a beautiful blonde who’s much younger than Steele, and so naive that she’s completely unaware that the object of her affection is fiftysomething and married with kids.
All of this family drama comes to a head at a food court at JFK. Not only are Rayford and Hattie at the airport, but Chloe (Ray’s daughter) is there, too! Having just arrived on a plane from college, she’s come home for a surprise party for her father. Upon learning that he’s now working, Chloe makes plans to confront him at the gate before he boards his flight. As she’s waiting, Chloe just so happens to overhear an outspoken Christian female (she’d just purchased a book called Acts of God at the airport bookstore moments before) passionately proclaiming her End Times doctrines about God to Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), a well-known news anchor and author.
Once again, the message rings clear: Christians are batshit crazy for believing in the Rapture. As the Christian lady quotes Bible verses at Buck, an irritated Chloe darts into the conversation and interjects her snappy anti-God opinion at the lady. Buck falls for Chloe’s feisty godless ways and, as they’re waiting for her father to arrive, the two engage in another cliché conversation about how nutty Christians are (Chloe even calls her mother a “whack job,” as if it’s a novel term) and there, during a four-minute conversation, the chemistry between Chloe and Buck heats up. Then, Chloe and her father have a heart to heart about how “crazy Mom the Christian is,” and then Rayford gets on the plane. Buck, who’s also flying to London, kisses Chloe before boarding the plane.
The message about how crazy Christians are is reiterated a couple more times, once when Chloe and her mom get into a fight about God and religion, which forces Chloe, along with her brother, to head to the mall.
But then, at minute 33, as Rayford, Hattie, Buck, and like 14 stereotypes (among them an angry little person, a selfish middle-aged businessman, a devout Muslim, and American Idol’s Jordin Sparks playing an angry paranoid rich mother who’s managed to sneak a gun onto the plane) are flying to London and Chloe and her little brother are shopping at the mall, Jesus comes back and all hell gets raised.
Though most Christians who adhere to Rapture theology believe that Jesus’ Rapture happens in a twinkling of an eye, Left Behind’s Rapture happens much more slowly, sometimes in slow motion. I swear, Jesus came back for at least 15 minutes, rapturing to Heaven the world’s born again population (most of which were Americans living in the New York City region) and every child 12 and under. Jesus made a huge mess, too, leaving piles of lifeless articles of clothing everywhere.
Chloe happened to be hugging her little brother when Jesus snatched him up out of her arms, leaving her all alone embracing his empty shirt, pants, underwear, and hat. The effects of the Rapture seemed to go on for forever, and the damage was ungodly: plane crashes, car crashes, bus crashes, and looting—my God, there’s lots of people looting in Left Behind. Poor Chloe seems to be present for every calamity. No, she really is; she dives away from cars, outruns planes, ducks away from falling buses. Her backpack is even stolen by somebody riding along on a motorcycle. Honestly, it was like Jesus’ return, in addition to being a rescue operation of Christians and kids, was also a personal vendetta against poor Chloe.
After the Rapture scene, Left Behind’s message changed instantly from Christians are nut jobs to Oops, those nut jobs were right. In the same convoluted, unbelievable ways that the first message was delivered, the second message gets beaten over our heads for Left Behind’s remaining 70 minutes—with stereotypical conversations, nonsensical events, and stereotypical characterization. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, the Muslim on the plane is assumed to be a terrorist or the selfish middle-aged businessman realizes his love for money has ruined him and he finds God or Jordin Sparks goes berserk and pulls out a handgun from her carry-on bag and threatens to kill everybody on the plane.
Heck, by the end, even Nicolas Cage is a diehard believer in the theologies of Left Behind and ready to turn his life over to Jesus. And Buck and Chloe? Well, by all accounts, they are in love. But not before Chloe climbs to the top of the highest bridge in NYC in preparation of killing herself. After raising her hands to the sky and crying out to her mother for forgiveness, and right before Chloe leaps, her cellphone rings. It’s Buck who’s on a plane getting ready crash-land into NYC.
Cue Nicolas Cage landing a plane.
Ultimately, just like all of those empty articles of clothing left behind by Jesus’ return, Left Behind is a lifeless film, void of anything remotely human, God-like, or authentic, just a terrible Christian movie starring Nicolas Cage.