In 2014, the religious drama God’s Not Dead became a breakout hit. The film, which featured a college student who argued with his atheist professor about the existence of God, was so successful that the filmmakers behind it made a sequel that offers a similar religious message. God’s Not Dead 2 — which features a predominantly new cast — focuses on a high school teacher who discusses Jesus’ nonviolent teachings in the classroom only to watch in horror as her career nearly derails.
The teacher named Grace Wesley is played by Melissa Joan Hart, whose innocence feels palpable even before controversy erupts. When a student named Brooke Thawley (The Goldbergs’ Hayley Orrantia) asks about Jesus' nonviolent philosophy in class, Grace simply responds to the question. Without opining on her personal faith, Grace talks about how Jesus’ teachings share similarities with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr and she even quotes Jesus.
She is rewarded with criticism and disdain.
After parents complain about Grace’s response, her career as a teacher comes under fire from the school and the ACLU. Her union offers her a young persistent lawyer named Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe) to represent her in court. Grace wants to save her job and Tom agrees to fight for her right to do so.
Tom's optimism faces off against Pete Kane, a cynical lawyer who wants to vehemently prove in the courtroom that God is dead. Ray Wise, who ironically played the devil on the under-rated television comedy Reaper, plays Kane and seemingly enjoys every moment of it.
Like other comparable films, it seems obvious from the opening moments where the story is headed. However, the script by writers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon offers a few nice subplots that supplement the main storyline, the best of which is Grace’s budding friendship with Tom. Grace is a believer. Tom is not. But together they form a nice alliance that is based on a mutual respect and admiration. Tom may not believe what Grace does but he's incensed by the prosecution that Grace has faced for talking about Jesus in the classroom.
The plot of the movie would seem outlandish if such prosecution didn’t really exist today. In addition to the obvious theme of religious prosecution here (which is sadly a legitimate concern), the movie depicts the problem of political correctness that we see so often today. In the classroom, Grace isn’t sharing her own beliefs. She’s sharing information about a historical figure but because that figure is a religious one, she faces a backlash about it.
Although the verdict never seems in doubt, the courtroom scenes do offer a few nice moments where well-known Christians like J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel take the stand to talk about why they believe. In one interesting plot twist, Tom argues that Jesus was a historical figure and his existence can be proven with the help of religious skeptics who still believe that he roamed this Earth (but doubt his role as the Messiah).
Admittedly, the film has a few major flaws. At times, the character of Grace comes off a bit stereotypical and there are several unnecessary plot lines here that really don't move the story forward. That being said, Metcalfe's performance worked really well here and Orrantia did a strong job in her role as the inquisitive student (one only wishes that her character had a larger role to play here). For all its faults though, God's Not Dead 2 does a solid job in making its arguments onscreen. Believers will be pleased.
For a list of five other must-see faith-based films you should watch after this, click here.
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