I continue to seek out and watch the “Left Behind” series for the same reason I keep wasting time on the “Prophecy” series, the “Dracula 2000” series, and the “Hellraiser” series. I can’t help it, I’m just one of those guys that, if I have invested at least two movies into something, I must know how it ends! In some cases, this has meant having to watch some really, really bad sequels (the “Dracula 2000” series being a prime example), and in other cases it’s meant some surprising entertainment (the “Hellraiser” series). With the “Left Behind” series, my interest lies more in seeing the world blow up, as there’s nothing I like more than a good ol fashion post-apocalyptic movie, which, when you boil it down and take out all the God stuff, is really what the “Left Behind” series is about.
Right off the bat, the filmmakers behind “World at War” makes it be known that this installment, unlike the previous two, has a much, much bigger budget, and they’re not afraid to use it. Immediately, you’ll notice that the cinematography is more crisp and the direction a lot slicker than in your usual religion-themed movies. It’s pretty amazing, if you think about it, but it was bound to happen; as I predicted while reviewing “Joshua”, sooner or later Christian films would prove to be profitable enough to start bringing in additional investors outside of the, shall we say, Godsphere. In a lot of ways, “World at Way” is an opening salvo at Hollywood — “Look, we can make a movie that looks just as good as yours, but do everything else different, including content.”
“World at War” picks up where “Tribulation Force” left off, with U.N. Chief Nicolae Carpathia (aka The Anti-Christ) firmly in control of the planet, having established a “Global Community” under one religion, with all other religions banned under penalty of incarceration. The charming devil has even got the President (Lou Gossett Jr.) on his side, although he hasn’t quite charmed the Vice President (Charles Martin Smith), who claims to have evidence that Carpathia plots to attack America . After an assassination attempt on his life, the President is leaning towards believing in the conspiracy, and calls for the services of reporter Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) and Carolyn Miller (Jessica Steen) to expose it.
Luckily for the President, Buck already knows all about Carpathia’s Anti-Christness, since he has been fighting the devil spawn in secret along with fellow God-fearing pilot Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson) and his daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens), who is now married to Buck. Curiously, Clarence Gilyard, who was in the last two installments, doesn’t return; instead, Arnold Pinnock steps into the preacher’s robes. Which leads me to this: if you haven’t seen the last two “Left Behind” movies, I wouldn’t bother with “World at War”, because you’ll be hopelessly lost. The script never bothers to retread previous events, and there isn’t even as much as a “flashback montage” to tell novices what’s already happened. This could very well prove a mistake, as it wouldn’t have cost the movie all that much screen time to rundown the events of the last two movies.
For those already in the know, “World at War” is a good continuation of Jenkins and LaHaye’s story. The script, by brothers Paul and Peter Lalonde, with assist from Andre van Heerden, is more polish, but nevertheless overly generic. There are still the same problems I had with the last two films, namely a need to drop the word “God” in way too much, although to complain that a religious movie is mentioning “God” too much is a bit inane on my point, but what the hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am. The other aspect of the film that could stand improvement is Gordon Currie, who has the obnoxious charming Euro trash thing down, but still can’t convince me of his evil side. Plus, Currie’s accent keeps getting in the way of his acting.
Complimenting the high production values is good direction by Craig Baxley, an old hand with action movies. Religion-themed films have never been known for action scenes, but “World at War” seems to be making a statement that good action in the genre is indeed possible. Unfortunately the film, running at just over 90 minutes, is too unevenly split between the heroes of the last two “Left Behind” movies (Buck and company) and the new faces (Lou Gossett Jr.’s President and Jessica Steen’s secret agent).
There are two complications for the heroes to deal with this time around — Carpathia’s impending attack on America , and his attempts to destroy those meddling Christians once and for all. The result is too little time spent with the old guys, which will inevitably leave those who had traveled with Buck, Chloe, and Ray feeling cheated, and justifiably so. In fact, the moments we do spend with Buck and company feel more like asides rather than part of the film’s A-story. At the same time, there’s too little moments spent with the new guys, making the conspiracy that they uncover seem hurried. Also, I’m still not sure if Jessica Steen’s character was always a secret agent who knows commando tactics, or if she was just a housewife who learned the skills after Carpathia had her husband killed.
It comes as no surprise that the ending of “World at War” leads directly into a fourth movie. One does hope the filmmakers will concentrate more on Buck, Chloe, and Ray more in later installments, instead of turning their appearances into little more than lengthy cameos. And good news for fans of Jessica Steen — she’ll most definitely return for another installment, although Gossett is, shall we say, questionable. Which is probably a good thing, since ol Lou looked a little gimpy throughout the movie anyhow.
Craig R. Baxley (director) / Jerry B. Jenkins, Reverend Tim LaHaye (novel Tribulation Force), Paul Lalonde, Peter Lalonde, Andr’ van Heerden (screenplay)
CAST: Lou Gossett Jr. …. President Gerald Fitzhugh
Kirk Cameron …. Buck Williams
Brad Johnson …. Rayford Steele
Jessica Steen …. Carolyn Miller
Gordon Currie …. Nicolae Carpathia
Janaya Stephens …. Chloe Steele
Chelsea Noble …. Hattie Durham
Arnold Pinnock …. Bruce Barnes