Friday, June 5, 2015

Movie Review for "Beyond the Mask"

I've been told that I have a generally negative take on movies. Yup. I won't deny that. I confess that I went to see Son of God, Noah, and Exodus: God's and Kings with the expectation that they were going to be Scripturally off. I mean, really, can you blame me? Do I even need to say that in each one of those occasions, I was correct? (I guess I just did.)

There are people praising A.D. The Series and should not. I'm not just out to offer my opinion. I'm also not writing just to say, "These are bad movies." I'm writing with the intention of drawing the reader to the true word of God. Do not get inherently excited about anything claiming to be "Christian." In most cases, they do way more harm than good. Test the spirits, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

But as one friend asked of me recently, "Couldn't you do a review where you're actually recommending a movie, not just criticizing it?" I do feel like I gave a positive review of VeggieTales In the House. But alright. I shall officially recommend a film (in whatever official capacity I have). And the film I recommend is called Beyond the Mask, out today in limited release. I was privileged to get a sneak peek during a one-night showing a few months ago.

Now I will preface this review by saying, again, it's been a while since I've seen it. I also didn't sit and watch it -- meaning I stood the whole time. Our infant daughter, Aria, was pitching a fit, and since having a newborn, my wife doesn't get to sit and enjoy much. So I took Aria to the back and walked in the aisle to sooth her so my wife could enjoy the movie with our kids.

Yes, we also had our 7-year-old and our 3-year-old with us. I visited with someone who saw the film and determined that it was acceptable for them to see. There is some violence, but trust me, it's not Hollywood violence. I read the Bible with my children and leave nothing out. They were perfectly capable of handling what was on screen.

The movie stars mostly unrecognizable names except for the always-charming John Rhys-Davies from Indiana Jones fame and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (and the voice of Treebeard, in case you didn't know).

Rhys-Davies also played Mordecai in One Night With the King, the 2006 film based on the biblical story of Esther, and has been in other Christian-ish titles. Beyond the Mask is also a Christian-based film (there's a reference to John 8:32 on the movie poster there) which makes me wonder if Rhys-Davies is a man of the faith, but I don't know.

But yes, anyway, Beyond the Mask is a historical epic that takes place in Revolutionary-era America with Christian undertones. Some might argue about whether or not to call it a "Christian film" as that's not really the movie's approach. But within the dialogue, talking about matters of grace and repentance and even salvation in Christ -- all of that is theologically solid. Imagine that! A doctrinally sound movie!

There are elements of the plot I don't want to give away. I went into the movie knowing very little about it, and I think that played into my enjoyment. The action and the scripting are all very top-notch, and there are some fun cameos featuring well-known American historical figures. I don't know who the gentleman was they got to play [omitting his name on purpose] but the likeness was pretty amazing.

The actor playing the lead character is not the best. I'm sorry, Mr. Cheney, but this is a review and I have to be honest -- I thought the lead role could have been better. (If it's any consolation, I didn't think Christian Bale was a good Batman.) But Rhys-Davies is fantastic as always. What a voice on that guy. And the unknown Kara Killmer, who plays the lead heroine, steals every scene she's in.

She's not just there to play the damsel-in-distress either. Killmer's character is smart, witty, and strong. While Hollywood either forces feminism down everyone's throat to unpalattable degrees, or presents an endangered woman with the endurance of a wet napkin, the filmmakers and Killmer have crafted a feminine character with such a natural vitality, the movie couldn't have made it without her.

One of the things I wish they had done more of -- There's a vigilante element to the movie, and I wish they would have played up their Zorro-like character more than they did (again, it's called Beyond the Mask). Any kids who watch the movie might want to pretend to be the Masked vigilante. If they had developed his mystique, he could have turned out to be a captivating hero.

At the same time, part of the plot is that as a vigilante, he's breaking the law. (Yeah, sorry, but Batman is a criminal.) That comes back and plays into the grace aspect of his redemption. There is a minor romantic element, a love-story subplot, but it's nothing inappropriate. The movie contains violence, and people die, which is rare for a "Christian" film to even attempt that. But it's necessary to the plot and not done for shock. Overall the film is a well thought-out epic that made for a great movie-watching experience.

You have to understand, or maybe you do if you've read enough of my reviews, this is a rare thing for me to say. My church congregation knows. I get ribbed for how few movies I like. Some think I don't like anything. There are plenty of movies and shows I love. I just don't like wasting my time and money on something that someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make and couldn't afford to bother with little things like, um, a PLOT!! Maybe some dialogue not written by an adolescent. I don't ask for much!

But Beyond the Mask gets everything right where it counts. I had a wonderful evening with the family. When my wife and I found out it was coming to theaters in limited release, we looked for it in our area, but perhaps we already had our turn. I would definitely watch it again. If it's playing in a theater near you, go see it. Let me know if you enjoyed it, too.