At face value, “Son of God” might seem like the ultimate spoiler-proof movie. It’s the story of Jesus’ following in Galilee, his clash with the Romans and Jews of Jerusalem, and finally, his ascension. Though there are many versions of this story, director Christopher Spencer’s re-telling (adapted from segments of HistoryChannel’s“TheBible”)isfilled with fresh moments. However, the film can’t escape its own theological and intellectual contradictions.

Diogo Morgado is excellent as Jesus. Whether he’s speaking to disciples, Pharisees or sinners, Morgado displays a humanistic, compassionate personality that paints the Nazarene as a conscientious public speaker. He seems to know exactly what to say in any situation, even though we as an audience can predict which Bible verse is coming. Jesus feels less stoic and more spontaneous here than in other adaptations, and it’s a joy to watch him.

The disciples are talented actors as well. Of the 12, “Son of God” focuses on John (Sebastian Knapp), Peter (Darwin Shaw), Judas (Joe Wredden), Matthew (Said Bey) and Thomas (Matthew Gravelle). John and Peter bookend the film, but they all have their time to shine. They’re played earnestly, at once unaware of their importance and proud to be standing with their teacher.

Showing all sides of the disciples and others helps ground the movie and supports a more historical, realistic tone. However, this realism is lost at points.

While dutifully showing the chasm of opinion on Jesus between the Romans and the Jews, the movie forgets one key figure: Herod. Although the IMDb page lists actor Rick Bacon as having portrayed him, I honestly can’t recall Herod’s name ever being mentioned in the film. This presents a valley of questions between Son of God and the historically accurate achievement it wants to be, even though Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller), Pilate (Greg Hicks) and Nicodemus (Simon Kunz) are portrayed exceptionally well.

The other hurdles the movie can’t jump over are twofold: it struggles to separate itself from the episodic nature of the television show on which it’s based, and it’s not as nondenominational as it thinks it is.

Very seldom in the film is there a good transition or a subtle reminder of setting. At times, it’s hard not to laugh whenterribleCGImock-upsofpalaces or temples zip by. What makes it worse is that these aren’t even necessary placeholders because Son of God actually has good-looking set pieces and doesn’t shy away from using subtitles to establish setting. These transitions smack of bad television writing.

To speak to the nondenominational – there is a heavy emphasis on the wine and bread being the blood and body. When we get to the crucifixion, we do follow the Stations of the Cross, but this is fine by me because Jesus meets someone new at each stop, and through them we learn more about his followers.

I was disappointed at the length of the crucifixion scene. It pales in comparison to the infamous length of the scene in “The Passion of the Christ,” but this movie was more engaging at other points and I felt it shortchanged itself. However, this crucifixion scene doesn’t pander to any one religion and it’s followed by an admirable depiction of Jesus’ time with the disciples after his ascension.

Son of God is helped by a truly gifted cast who breathe new life into scenes that could have felt rote. I’m hoping Diogo Morgado doesn’t develop Jim Caviezel syndrome, meaning I hope he won’t only be remembered for playing Jesus. I’d like to see what else all these actors can do. But the same could besaidforthisstory–I’dstillliketosee how else it could be told.

“Son of God” = 3/5 

Image courtesy of Julia Suber