'Son of God': What the Critics Are Saying

Son of God -- the Christian film that expands on and reassembles material from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's successful 10-hour miniseries on the History Channel -- opens in theaters Friday. Directed by Christopher Spencer, thefeature casts Diogo Morgado as the 'first Latin Jesus' and has already sold over half a million presale tickets from religious groups alone.

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And of any film opening this weekend, Son of God is arguably the most immune to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, which can take a substantial bite out of the box office and could beat Liam Neeson action-thriller Non-Stop.

Read what top critics are saying about Son of God below:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy said in his review that "this quite mediocre spawned-from-television feature feels like a Jesus film designed primarily for true believers." For others, the film unintentionally characterizes Jesus as "some sort of conjurer or illusionist" in the first half, and feels terribly unbalanced as a result of paying undue attention to these miracles while minimizing Jesus's teachings and omitting other aspects of his life ... we hear only fragments of Jesus's lessons -- the sermon on the mount is a mere throwaway -- his association with John the Baptist is passed over, and the forty days in the desert and temptation by Satan was cut at the last minute ... For a film that, at least initially, seems intent upon covering the arc of Jesus's ministry, which is generally reckoned to have spanned at least two years, it's very anxious to get to the climax" of the crucifixion. A small measure of distinction is marked by what comes afterward: the reactions of Mary Magdalene (Amber Rose Revah) and the disciples, and Jesus' call to action to preach the gospel.

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The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday agreed that "Jesus’s teachings sounding like carefully rehearsed speeches and his miracles coming off like magic stunts" in a film that "hasn’t been directed as much as cobbled together ... The visual effects are often cheesy, the dialogue leaden, the melodramatic emotionalism continually snuffing out the possibility of authentic emotion ... As the Passion hews to its inevitable narrative, more than a few audience members may find themselves reflexively humming tunes from Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970s musical that, for all of its own sometimes inadvertent campiness, can now be appreciated for creating moments of genuine feeling in its music, metaphors and imaginative staging."

Chicago Tribune's Roger Moore noted that Son of God "has a redemptive optimism about it that makes the brutality go down easier," with Morgado's beaming smile, Portuguese accent and "lines that feel like rough drafts of the polished poetry of the King James Bible." (Ex: "I'll give my stone to the first man who tells me he has not sinned" doesn't have the memorable ring of "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," says Moore.) However, the inoffensive film is "dramatically flat," with only Greg Hicks as Pilate and Darwin Shaw as apostle Peter making "the strongest impressions, with co-producer Downey (Touched by an Angel) managing a perfectly weepy Mother Mary."

New York Daily News' Elizabeth  background is in television documentaries, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he treats the Bible as a script rather than opening up his story to interpretation. For example, contemporary scholars consider Roman prefect Pontius Pilate a barbarous villain, but Spencer treats him kindly, reserving his ire for the era’s Jewish leaders — who are, after all, blamed in the New Testament for Jesus’ Crucifixion ... Spencer’s old-fashioned style and clearly limited budget are better suited to the small screen." The review also notes that "Morgado, with his beautifully styled hair and soulful eyes, floats through the movie like an especially beatific model. But he’s missing depth."

New York Post's Kyle Smith said that Son of God is a film inspired less by the Bible than by a somewhat lesser guide to Christian precepts: Jesus for Dummies ... The special effects aren’t good enough for the big screen -- Jerusalem looks like it was created out of Legos -- and the overbearing soundtrack turns what ought to be quietly transcendent moments into corn syrup." He also warns of the crucifixion segment, "the PG-13 rating is indefensible; this must be the bloodiest film of that rating I’ve ever seen. If not as gory as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it is comparable to Martin Scorsese’s R-rated The Last Temptation of Christ."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com

Twitter: @cashleelee
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