God’s Not Dead was one of the most bankable Christian Films from the previous decade and in my review, I noted that the movie was meant to groom youth to consume Big Eva products and content. Recently I finally sat down and watched God’s Not Dead 2, and somehow I’m left thinking that this movie is far worse despite having a more concise narrative. God’s Not Dead 2 has three and a half plots as opposed to the previous movie’s six plots. The main plot centers on a school teacher, named Grace Wesley thrusted into a lawsuit over answering a student question about Jesus. Spoiler alert.
The story begins with a high school junior, named Brooke mourning her brother as her parents groom her for a lifetime of student debt. In her personal time, she develops a rapport with a teacher, Grace Wesley who teaches a scattered curriculum of AP US History. Whereas one day the class is playing review games about the Declaration of Independence and the next, they are discussing the 1960’s civil rights movement. Clearly these writers have never taken AP US. While Brooke is overseeing the donation of her dead brother’s belongings, she discovers that he was a secret Christian when she uncovers his Bible. She then reads it and ask a question in class comparing Jesus to heretic MLK and pedophile Ghandi and their collective commitment to nonviolence. It was a banal question and answer, but no good deed goes unpunished. And Grace Wesley is suspended from her job, and the ACLU steps in to personally sue her and not the school at the behest of Brooke’s parents who believe the lawsuit will help get her into a nominally better college. This was a rather believable premise. But the movie does not stop here.
Meanwhile Reverend Dave from the previous movie is on jury duty. What a coincidence. And lefty blogger from the last movie is in remission and does not know how to continue with faith now that her cancer is healed. This side plot I found quite daring for a Christian movie as it explored what the true foundation for her faith actually was, considering after befriending Newsboys in the first movie, she never went on to attend church. Martin, also from the previous movie, comes to Dave with a myriad of questions. There’s the three and a half plots in this movie.
Eventually the trial happens, with Reverend Dave on the jury, and we see some of the worst lawyering in cinematic history. Even the stammering lawyer from My Cousin Vinny was better than Tom Endler, who is an elite educated lawyer trying to find meaning in practicing law, kind of like Kim Wexler but not as good. When the trial has a rough start, the defense decides to call on Lee Strobel and J Warner Wallace to prove that Jesus was a historical figure whose statements are historical record. This testimony is delivered faster than any testimony I’ve ever heard watching court or court dramas. Yet, despite this flaw, this scene was highly enjoyable, reminiscent of the highlights of God’s Not Dead 1. Is it a Big Eva product placement? Perhaps. Was it farfetched to believe that the defense changing their strategy mid trial would be able to call in these guys? Also yes, but this was the high water mark for Tom Endler’s lawyering in this trial other than when he as a white man explained MLK to a black woman.
Meanwhile Brooke is protesting the trial for Grace Wesley, and when she hears that the trial is not going so well, she bursts in the court room, reminding the defense that they can call her as a witness. She’s sixteen making her testimony admissible in trial regardless of parental privilege and the defense never thought to call her as a witness or secure a deposition from her so that they would know what she would say in front of a jury. At this point, Dave is no longer on the jury because of appendicitis. I’m serious and a goth girl fills in for him. But don’t worry, looks aren’t everything.
But Brooke ends up making the trial worse for Grace Wesley with her testimony, and the defense never so much as bothered to do damage control on redirect. With time running out Tom Endler decides to call his client onto the witness stand as a hostile witness and proceeds to berate her in front of the jury. He then pleads that the court skip to deliberation, and the plaintiffs oblige. The jury found in favor of Grace Wesley.
Meanwhile, lefty blogger talks to Brooke and establishes a less self-serving foundation of faith. Brooke is now a Christian, by the way. Dave refuses to turn over sermon transcripts to the government in a non sequitur subplot. And Martin tells Dave he wants to be a pastor despite being a new convert which makes him unqualified. Although hinted at earlier in the movie, Grace and Tom don’t end up together largely because he isn’t a Christian.
God’s Not Dead 2 steps into the genre of court drama and fails to hold a candle to My Cousin Vinny, The Judge, Find Me Guilty, A Few Good Men, or Better Call Saul. In fact, it’s the worst court drama I’ve ever seen. What’s really disappointing is that they had a good premise here but executed it poorly.
Additionally, I would argue that this movie is less biblical than its predecessor. This movie promotes the misconception that MLK was a Christian and justifies baby Christians becoming pastors. In multiple ways, this movie is an improvement in acting, concision, and arguably less reliance and promotion of celebrity culture, despite Sadie Robertson Huff playing herself in the movie and Newsboys doing another concert. I wanted to see the film go a little deeper with the lefty blogger plot and cut out Dave as he served no real purpose in this movie other than to artificially raise the stakes when he could no longer serve on the jury. Surprisingly, I thought the movie let on a romantic relationship between Grace Wesley and Tom Endler, only for that trope to be discarded by the end.
When high school football coaches are fired for praying, the premise of this 2016 movie was ahead of its time, but the execution was amateur. Ultimately, my expectations weren’t high for this movie, but I still came away disappointed as though they learned all the wrong lessons from the commercial success of God’s Not Dead 1.