Roger M. Wilcox's review of

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

(First posted to Bad Movie Night in 2003 or so.)

The beautiful thing about the Book of Revelation is that it is SO bizarre, SO convoluted, and SO filled with ambiguous imagery that you could interpret it to mean just about ANYTHING. The Beast with Seven Heads and Ten Horns could be the 7 hills of Rome with 10 regional governors, or it could be 7 delegates to the U.N. security council driving 10 cars and honking their horns, or it could be the 7-up corporation and its sister company 10-up, or it could be the Laernian Hydra from Disney's Hercules at the moment when it sprouted 7 heads. The Mark of the Beast has been pinned on everything from Social Security Numbers to ATM PINs to credit card numbers to bar codes to Mondex to the little scar you get when you get immunized against smallpox. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse and the seven angels and the seven trumpets and the seven candlesticks, likewise, could be interpreted to mean anything. The "tribulation", which is supposed to happen shortly before the Second Coming of Christ™, could be marked by any manner of Bad Things, and for all we know, its described "seven year" duration might be seven metaphorical years or something. You could even use passages out of the Book of Revelation to prove that the Earth is square (c.f. Rev 7:1).

But there is one thing that absolutely, positively, definitely does NOT appear anywhere in the Book of Revelation:

Nowhere does Revelation talk about a PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE.

In fact, a pre-tribulation Rapture isn't described anywhere in the Bible. A Rapture of sorts IS described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but this Rapture is supposed to happen AFTER the Lord comes down from Heaven. It was a 19th-century theologian named John Darby, and not any of the authors of the Bible or the early Christian church, who popularized the rather harebrained idea that the Rapture of 1 Thes 4:17 was going to happen BEFORE the time of tribulation "described" in Revelation. Perhaps he wanted the True Believers to have some kind of get-out-of-tribulation-free card.

But, heck, why should a lack of good Biblical scholarship hold back a Christian Fundamentalist end-times thriller series?

Apparently, the first movie in this series, Left Behind (which has already been reviewed here by Jeff DeLuzio) was released directly to video and THEN had a short theatrical run. The reasons given for this in "The making of Left Behind: The Movie" were about as odd as the Book of Revelation itself. With Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, on the other hand, the producers had no such pretense. This movie was released straight to VHS and DVD and has stayed there ever since. Amusingly enough, the DVD contains some "deleted scenes." (Deleted from WHAT? This film never HAD a theatrical release!) But — and this is the strangest part — this film actually did a slightly better job in some places than its predecessor. Not that that's saying much, I know. But perhaps they didn't have to waste as much of their shoestring production budget on advertising this time.

The film picks up right after Left Behind left off. Nick Carpathia, who had just been revealed to be the Antichrist but who had hypnotized everyone who wasn't a True Christian™ into believing he was a good guy, is secretary general of the United Nations. (The United Nations! Horrors! It must be the End Times!!) In the face of the chaos of having millions of people mysteriously vanish in the Rapture, the leaders of the free world have given Carpathia the power to act as a de facto leader of the whole world. (A one world government! Horrors! It must be the End Times!!) At the behest of the political puppets he secretly controls the strings of, Carpathia creates a single international currency (Horrors! It must be the End Times!!) and a single one-world New-Age-like religion (Horrors! It must be the End Times!!). Meanwhile, two fire-breathing Bible Thumpers have mysteriously appeared at Jerusalem's wailing wall, which as all good Christians know is the remains of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem (Horrors! It must be the End Times!!).

Our heroic Pastor Bruce Barnes declares that the two flame-spewing holy men are the two Witnesses of the Book of Revelation. He also tries to tie the first Horseman of the Apocalypse into the whole Antichrist thing, freely admitting that this is his own guess and not anything that Revelation actually says. He then proceeds to convert some people who've shown up for his sermon to Christianity, thereby giving them, in the magical world of this movie, the Ultimate Weapon Against Evil.

In fact, throughout this film, Christianity is time and again made to look like a set of super powers. It makes you immune to the Antichrist's powers of hypnosis, it makes rhythm-and-blues-singing angels mysteriously appear when the Antichrist's goons are about to open fire on you, it pretty much makes everything go your way. "Don't worry," you can practically hear Kirk Cameron say, "They can't hurt me. I'm a Christian! That makes me invincible!"

The scenes where major characters were Converted are even less convincing here than they were in the first film. The first Conversion, where the airline pilot convinces his buddy to be a Christian, comes across like a Chick Tract, which made it good for a few giggles. (Especially if you pause the playback and yell "Pascal's Wager!" at the appropriate moment.) The last Conversion didn't seem to make any sense at all, and derived its emotional power with lots of on-screen crying — a cheap and dirty trick only because it's usually effective.

And the Conversion they show at the climax of the movie, that gets broadcast all around the world, thereby showing everyone the Way and the Truth and the Light—? Well ... Fundamentalists have a rather unsavory reputation for downplaying all religions other than their own. It features a Rabbi who gets Converted by meeting the two fire-breathing bible-quoting Witnesses.

If you don't like Christianity, this film is good for a few laughs, and even has one or two Christian-based touching moments that aren't over-the-top intolerable. If you DO like Christianity, but you don't care for the apocalyptic Fundamentalist variety of Christianity, this film is good for even more laughs.

If, however, you believe wholeheartedly in the Truth of the End Times Prophecies and the Coming Apocalypse Which Should Be Here Real Soon Now, you've probably already made up your mind that everything that happens in this film will happen exactly the same way in real life, right down to the Antichrist being a scrawny Russian guy. I just hope you don't become U.S. president and decide to "hasten" the apocalypse with a pre-emptive nuclear strike or something. (Author's Note: At the time I wrote this review, Sarah Palin had not yet appeared on the national scene. <shudder>)

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