Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force (2002) Movie Review

Bible lovers rejoice. “Left Behind 2”, the sequel to 2000’s “Left Behind”, is bringing God back into the lives of sinners everywhere. Or at the very least, it’s bringing a heck of an entertaining franchise to us movie going scum.

“Left Behind 2”, about a small band of true believers who attempts to usurp the Anti-Christ before he can bring death and destruction upon mankind, is best viewed after one has seen the original. The sequel was obviously geared toward fans of the franchise, or the novels from which the series is based on. There is very little in-depth exposition on the events that took place in the original, which I believe is a mistake especially since in the original about 100 million or so people were “taken” by God in what the Bible calls “the rapture.” While “Left Behind 2” does mention the rapture, it doesn’t dwell on it, and as a result new viewers will be hopelessly lost.

The sequel brings back Kirk Cameron as GNN newsman Buck Williams, as well as every important character from the original. Buck is in cahoots with commercial pilot Ray (Brad Johnson), Ray’s daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens), and preacher Bruce (Clarence Gilyard) in a grassroots Underground Rebellion. With the U.N. now under the command of Nicholae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), the Anti-Christ in question, the foursome must began their work from the ground up. They do this by trying to undermine Carpathia’s plans for global domination from the inside, as well as converting fellow sinners onto their side. (You see, the reason the people who didn’t disappear during the “rapture” was because they’re all sinners, or has yet to accept God “into their hearts”.)

As mentioned, the film is best viewed once you’ve seen the original, after which everything will make sense. In many ways, “Left Behind 2” is light years better than its original, which once again defies the rule of movie sequels that states no sequel can be better than the original. In this case, the rules get broken, and what you have is a personal film that draws you in with its intimate scenes. In-between plot points concerning Carpathia’s drive for world domination, the movie smartly zeroes in on individual characters trying to deal with their own personal problems. It also helps that the actors, 2 years removed from the original, now knows their characters much better.

Kirk Cameron, who I had a lot of trouble buying in the original, still has that air of “He looks way too young for this part” about him, but Cameron is so likeable it’s hard not to, well, like him, or his character. Buck’s growing relationship with Janaya Stephens’ Chloe is handled well, with just the right touches of awkwardness and burgeoning love. There is a silly misunderstanding that I could have done without, but I suppose the movie was trying to add some levity to the proceedings. Actually, the person who has the most growth as a character is Stephens’ Chloe, who has become the film’s heart and soul. A scene with Chloe in a church caring for a dying fireman makes that point.

To watch “Left Behind 2” one would forget it’s actually a film about the end of the world. With a limited budget, director Bill Corcoran is left to show the devastation and effects of his post-rapture world in small spurts and isolated events. Still, with the movie’s main focus on the characters and their involvement with each other, the film doesn’t falter because of its limited resources. There are actually only two scenes that involve cgi or special effects, and one features two men who shoot fire from their mouth, and another features Carpathia briefly transforming into a sort of demon-like figure. But as a whole, “Left Behind 2” stays close to reality, and despite its talk of God and faith and what have you, it’s quite grounded.

If there is one big fault I can find with the film it’s the Carpathia character. While I can buy that this Russian-sounding man can rise to the head of the U.N. and turn the world organization into a Nazi-like regime bent on fascism and global domination, Carpathia himself comes across as more sleazy car salesman than Anti-Christ. Unfortunately at this point Gordon Currie is cemented in the role, and the producers probably didn’t want to pull a “Bewitched” and pull him from the role even if they wanted to.

I’m looking forward to “Left Behind 3”, especially since the end of “Left Behind 2” has set the stage for a grudge match between the Anti-Christ and his lowly mortal enemies. Also, I should mention that I’ve learned more about the Bible, God, Jesus Christ, and this whole “faith in God” thing from watching the two movies than I ever have doing, well, everything else. Now this is my kind of Sunday school!

Bill Corcoran (director) / John Patus, Paul Lalonde (screenplay)
CAST: Kirk Cameron …. Buck Williams
Brad Johnson …. Rayford Steele
Janaya Stephens …. Chloe Steele
Clarence Gilyard Jr. …. Bruce Barnes
Chelsea Noble …. Hattie Durham

Buy Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force on DVD