Film Review: Evan Almighty
It's been raining lots and I've been growing a beard. Clear signs that Evan Almighty is about to hit cinemas across the land. It's a strange time to release a family comedy film with a spiritual edge. It'll be going head to head with a small movie you may have heard about called The Simpsons. Given that God-talk has never been far from the yellow lips of the inhabitants of Springfield it's strange that it's this film that has garnered so much Christian press. Are they onto something we don't know about, or have they simply just backed the wrong horse?
Whilst it wasn't until the unexpected success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004 that Hollywood really started to sit up and take notice of the "Christian market", director Tom Shadyac was way ahead of the game. Shadyac was the writer and director of 2003's Bruce Almighty, a film that, somewhat unusually, chose to combine comedy with the problem of suffering and unanswered prayer. Nowadays, studios seem to give the green light to practically any religious film project that comes its way, so it's not too much of a surprise to find Shadyac given another bite of the cherry.
In the four years since Bruce Almighty, the star of that film, Jim Carrey, seems to have faded somewhat, whereas his sidekick, Steve Carrell is very much on the up and up. Whilst his work on Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin and the US version of The Office hasn't been everyone's cup of tea, Carrell has become a star in his own right. His decison to accept the sequel's lead role must have been a bit of a boost.
Carrell picks up his role as Evan Baxter, (Bruce's newscasting rival in the original film), who is promoted in the film's opening scenes to senator. The film quickly leaves any trace of Baxter's previous life behind him and submerges itself in its new narrative. The Baxter's move into their huge new home, Evan starts his cushy new job, and one by one we're introduced to a whole new cast, including his wife Joan (...of ark, geddit?) and his three sons (who, in case you were wondering, are not called Shem Ham and Japheth ).
Life as a senator starts off very positively. Even before Evan's first day he is given a swanky office courtesy of leading senator Congressman Long, who wants Baxter's support for his controversial bill. God however as other ideas, and, once again takes the form of Morgan Freeman in order to get Evan's attention.
As God's plan is to get Baxter to build an ark, he has numerous means of ways to announce his message. There are personal appearances, frequent recurrences of Gen 6:14 ("Make thee an ark of gopher wood"), pairs of animals tracking him to work, and facial hair that won't go away.
Anyone familiar with Tim Allen's The Santa Clause franchise will no doubt spot the similarity. Indeed there is a significant amount of "borrowing" in this film. Anyone who has watched The Birds, Field of Dreams, Groundhog Day, or any of Disney's takes on Noah's Ark will no doubt feel a sense of deja vu. Of course Bruce Almighty was, in many ways, an updated version of Goerge Burns's Oh God, but it still felt fresh and original. Whilst it's not one of the all time great films, it's still pretty good, and combining comedy with more serious spiritual issues made it relatively novel. In contrast Evan Almighty either falls back on re-treading those same ideas, or using ideas from other films. As a result, whilst it's certainly a long way from a bad film, at its best it's merely entertaining.
That's not to say there aren't some standout moments. This is apparently the most expensive comedy ever made and it boasts some pretty impressive visuals. The scenes of the animals approaching the ark far surpass anything produced by previous films about Noah, particularly the scenes with the animals. Similarly impressive are the climatic final scenes.
But what kind of God does Evan encounter? Both this film, and the original portray a God who is down to earth, laid back, likeable, has a good sense of humour, and who is powerful, but chooses to involve his people. Here, as with the first film, God is brought into the film by a human request. Evan may not get the answer to prayer he was expecting, but, as God points out, he was the one who wanted to change the world.
Interestingly Freeman's God is far more the God we see revealed in Jesus than the God of the original flood story. When Evan questions his motives he replies "let's just say that whatever I do I do it because I love you". It seems to contrast with his prediction of a flood, but ultimately he's shown to be true to his word. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the God of the Almighty franchise is that he's a God who prefers to work through his people. While he may laugh at their plans, and use their prayers as an opportunity for growth, he longs to make the world a better place primarily by relying on "one act of random kindness at a time".
Despite such a positive portrayal of the one, true, Almighty, the way much of the Christian media has clamoured to promote this film, regardless of its quality, is rather disappointing. Overall, it's a great film for Christian families to take their kids to, and interesting and entertaining enough for the rest of . It seems unlikely, however, that a run-of-the-mill comedy such as this would inspire anyone to a new, or more profound, faith. And, whilst it might not have such a positive portrayal of God, ultimately, The Simpsons Movie is bound to be funnier.
Posted by: Matt Page on Tuesday Jul 24th, 2007
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