"Son Of God" has some big sandals to fill.
Not only is it the latest epic to tackle the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ — one that's sure to be compared to all that came before — it's also a big-screen adaptation of the hit TV series "The Bible." The movie actually reworks some episodes from that History Channel series and combines them with new footage to deepen the story. And the creators are hoping to score the same biblical magic at the movies that they have on the small screen.
Diogo Morgado, who also starred in the TV series, reprises his role as Jesus, following in the footsteps of iconic performances like Jim Caviezel's in "The Passion of the Christ," Willem Dafoe in "The Last Temptation of Christ" and Jeffrey Hunter in "King of Kings." Regardless of his performance, though, Morgado will likely go down as the best-looking Jesus of the bunch.
While Jesus' story is the centerpiece of "Son of God" — chronicling him going to John (Sebastian Knapp) and other apostles to spread the Gospel before being betrayed and crucified — it also touches on other biblical figures, like Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samson and Delilah, and David and Goliath. (The filmmakers tried to squeeze every drop out of their 138-minute runtime.)
So is "Son Of God" destined to be a new biblical classic, or is its depiction of Jesus in vain? Here's what critics are saying about the film, in theaters Friday (February 28).
A Message Of Love
"To its credit, this is one of the few movies to emphasize Jesus' heritage (we see him reading from Torah, and being given a Jewish burial) and to de-emphasize the anti-Semitism that can be a part of Passion Plays. (In this telling, it's not 'the Jews' who really want Jesus silenced, but mostly one threatened elder.) After the ugliness of 'The Passion of the Christ' and, frankly, its filmmaker, that's very welcome — as is a film which, once again, chooses to emphasize a message of total honesty and loving forgiveness." — Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger
"The epic proportions of the miniseries hold up well on the big screen, save for the digitally composed establishing shots of Jerusalem. Whereas some editing patterns and musical cues in 'The Bible' evoked co-producer Mark Burnett's reality-TV juggernaut 'Survivor' (a show not without its own heavy religious symbolism), film composers Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe have changed their tune here quite a bit to cinematic effect." — Martin Tsai, LA Times
Jesus The Superhero
"The story, which follows Jesus from nativity to resurrection, is essentially a series of greatest-hits miracles. Jesus casually multiplies a loaf of bread and some fish into a feast for a crowd, raises Lazarus from the dead and walks across the surface of a storm-tossed sea in a manner befitting a superhero. It can be argued that Jesus is the ultimate superhero, but this film's approach seems to trivialize the dawn of Christianity into a top-10 list of exploits and famous phrases." — Claudia Puig, USA Today
Preaching To The Choir
"But because 'Son of God' is unwilling to recast its story in any new or different way, it becomes merely a montage of Jesus' most memorable moments: Walking on water, feeding the thousands, raising Lazarus from the dead and, finally, sacrificing Himself for mankind on the cross. (Parents should note that the film's crucifixion scene is fairly unsparing.)
Characterization is forbidden, which means drama disappears. Because 'Son of God' is a story most of us have already heard, its main audience would seem to be those who simply want to hear it again. It is almost literally preaching to the choir." — Rafer Guzman, Newsday
Jesus Christ, 'Superstar'?
"Its narrative is too simplistic, its drama too inert for 'Son of God' to be taken seriously as art; as iconography, it exists somewhere on the continuum between Warner Sallman's 1940 'Head of Christ' and Ted Neeley's groovy blue-eyed savior in 'Superstar.' But Downey and Burnett clearly mean for their film to make an impact not as an aesthetic experience, but as a spiritual one. ... Don't expect to see a great film, or even a very good one." — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post