Welcome to The Late Great Planet Mirth, an ongoing series in which a reformed survivor of PreMillenialist Dispensationalism explores the often silly, occasionally absurd, and sometimes surprisingly compelling tropes, traits, and treasures of films about the Rapture. Get caught up in it with us!
Revelation, sometimes stylized as Apocalypse II: Revelation, is the first of three sequels to 1998 PPI release Apocalypse, and it is a massive improvement on the previous installment. Gone are the bargain basement community theatre actors who clogged up the works in the first flick, replaced by people you may have actually heard of before; gone is the soundtrack that consists almost entirely of Contemporary Christian Music artists, replaced by music that was actually scored for the film rather than haphazardly arranged behind it. Furthermore, the production value on Revelation is exponentially higher than that of Apocalypse, as this movie succeeds in actually looking like a movie and not a poorly produced television pilot shot on VHS. Although the proselytizing elements are still present in this film, they’re toned down significantly, and Revelation feels like it was conceived as a movie with the soapbox added as an afterthought, rather than the other way around.
The film opens on Thorold Stone, a counter-terrorism specialist whose wife and young daughter were among those who vanished three months prior; he spends his evenings reminiscing and watching old home films while flashing back to all the times his wife tried to convince him to join her in church. He is awoken from his reverie by news of a schoolbus bombing (which is a bit of a continuity problem, as all children were supposedly raptured, although this could have been a bus for teenagers), and he meets his partner at the scene of the crime. They trace the detonation signal to an underground church meeting of “haters,” Christians who oppose the apparently benevolent Antichrist Franco Macalusso (recast and now played by Nick Mancuso, who would portray him for the rest of the quadrilogy). Although their orders are to kill all the Haters on sight, Stone and his partner arrest the group instead, allowing the Hater sect leader (Marium Carvell) to plant the seeds of doubt in Stone’s mind and pass him a CD-ROM that she says will show him the truth. Macalusso sends Len Parker (David Roddis, previously seen as the new head of WNN last time) to kill Stone and his partner, fearing they may have learned too much. Stone’s partner is killed, but Stone survives while the captured Haters are imprisoned and prepared for re-education.
The disc leads Stone to Willie Spino (Tony Nappo), a wheelchair-bound computer programmer who has been working on an incredibly advanced virtual reality program for Macalusso’s upcoming “Day of Wonders.” Spino is unable to access the disc despite it being part of his design, and his attempts to access the O.N.E. network reveal his location to the Antichrist’s forces; the two escape and make their way to the Christian underground, where Nappo reunites with his stepsister, who is revealed to be Apocalypse MVP Leigh Lewis, reprising her role as Helen Hannah. While the incarcerated Haters continue to persevere throughout their torture, blind cynic Cindy (supermodel Carol Alt), a member of Helen’s underground, voices her increasing frustration at having to live in hiding. When Willie manages to crack the final line of code, he learns what the Day of Wonders actually is: in the virtual world, everyone will face the choice of accepting the Mark of the Beast or death.
As noted above, Revelation is a departure from Apocalypse in quality across the board. Whereas Apocalypse featured a lot of montages in which the members of the audience are meant to meditate upon the ideas presented, this film finds its footing quickly and stays strong through the end. There’s a great sequence that follows Thorold’s introduction to Helen in which the two have a conversation about faith, which includes Thorold begging that God show him a sign as small as knocking over a water glass; Helen tells him that God doesn’t work that way, and even if he did make himself evident by causing the glass to tumble, Thorold’s mind would find another explanation for the event. After their discussion, Thorold stands and bumps the table on which the glass is standing, causing it to fall to the floor; still later, when their safehouse is raided by the Antichrist’s forces, the group is able to make their escape because Len Parker trips on the glass. It’s not the most elegantly composed chain of events, but it reflects an understanding of irony and foreshadowing that wasn’t present in Apocalypse, and the scene demonstrates a real understanding of how many people approach the question of the existence of a higher power. It’s surprisingly subtle and well-composed, and the film deserves credit for that.
On the other hand, there are problems with the script. Although the film’s intentional diversity is admirable in its inclusion not just of people of color but also the differently abled, the end of the film is arguably ableist in its approach to physical handicaps. Willie is the most fleshed-out character in the movie, and Nappo is obviously a talented actor, but his turn from reluctant ally to outright antagonist is abrupt. Further, the fact that only Willie and the blind Cindy are so quick to accept the Antichrist’s offer (which restores his ability to walk and her ability to see), and that they are the only two main characters to do so, is problematic in its implications; both are so desperate to be “whole” that they sacrifice their souls to do so, with the influence of the Antichrist turning them into cackling villains in the final act. It’s not a great message.
The film’s major issue, however, is also its greatest strength. Whereas Apocalypse was made with the intention of being an evangelical tool, Revelation has elements of that but is largely focused on telling a compelling story first, and it mostly succeeds. The problem with this is that the series has moved past the “world-building” stage and now expects the audience to be well-versed in the premillenialist dispensationalism that forms the narrative background. We learn in the opening moments that Thorold works for the O.N.E., which is never defined or explained. Readers of Left Behind and the works of Hal Lindsey will recognize that this is the “foretold” one-world government that the Antichrist will supposedly set up on the earth, and will likely assume that the O.N.E. is the One Nation Empire or One Nation Earth, but the casual viewer without a background in this particular eschatological concept is asked to accept a lot about this world that is not clearly explicated, which hurts the film overall. It may have been the intent of the filmmakers that non-specialized viewers then ask the PMD Christian friend who loaned the film to them to explain, but that’s asking a lot of a casual audience member. Still, this is a much more thoughtful approach to the subject matter than we got last time, and it manages to be genuinely compelling for most of its runtime.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond