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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Beyond the Mask movie review: assassin’s creed

Beyond the Mask red light

Wannabe Christian swashbuckler throws a lot of stuff up on the screen in the hopes that something will stick as exciting and romantic. None of it does.
I’m “biast” (pro): love a good swashbuckler

I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of “faith-based” movies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s 1776, and William Reynolds is an assassin for the East India Company! That might be more like something more out of a certain videogame than actual history, but hey! He’s the “villain of India” and an “infamous scoundrel.” But now he’s going straight… straight to the colonies to become best friends with Benjamin Franklin and to foil a Guy Fawkes-ish plot that would stop America from being born. But wait! Before that, he will masquerade as a vicar and prove to a pretty woman that he’s now a Good Man and for about five minutes act as a masked vigilante for colonial freedom. And for Jesus, of course.

Yeah, all of that in one movie. And not in a good way. This wannabe Christian swashbuckler doesn’t have much buckle to swash, but not for lack of throwing stuff up on the screen in the hopes that something will stick as exciting and romantic. (None of it does.)

Apparently Beyond the Mask has broken records for on-demand distribution — basically, that’s when audiences organize one-off screenings in conjunction with the producers — by selling a ton of tickets for 364 screens (that’s a lot) in the U.S. for its debut this week. Mask also raises the bar for faith-based movies with its would-be sweeping scope and feints toward a historical setting. Alas, however, it doesn’t actually raise the bar for quality for this apparently undemanding audience… or, at least, for an audience that seems to demand nothing at all except that a movie mention God and that its characters require no motivation for any of their actions, even wildly contradictory ones, beyond “but Jesus.”

It is kind of new for a Christian film that an entity such as the East India Company — called “a monster” here — would be its villain; American evangelical Christianity these days is all about how Jesus wants you to be wealthy (and how poverty is a moral failing), and is most definitely not about corporate malfeasance being a bad thing. Still, it is beyond cartoonish how Reynolds (Andrew Cheney) is pursed by his former EIC boss when he suddenly decides to quit being a bad guy. (The EIC honcho is played by John Rhys-Davies [The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King], who does everything but twirl his mustache here to convince you that he’s eee-vel.) I mean, we’re told that Reynolds is a vicious, hardened mercenary, but we don’t actually see that. And we’re told he’s had a change of heart, but we don’t witness that, either. Still, Reynolds is handsome and sad-faced, so I guess that’s supposed to be enough to make us sympathize with him? There isn’t even any mention of God or a religious epiphany till much later on, and even then it’s only in passing and seems to have only the most cursory bearing on Reynolds’ behavior. I don’t understand how even people who want to see God onscreen will be satisfied with this.

And if you want emotional or intellectual or psychological or historical credibility, and some basic narrative cohesion, you can forget that too. Reynolds goes into hiding in by posing as a vicar, and it’s beyond ridiculous that this alleged rogue could pass as a man of the cloth for, apparently, months, giving sermons and everything, without anyone getting suspicious. But this is how he meets the utterly generic Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer), to whom Reynolds decides he has to prove he’s a Good Man. (There’s a lot of rescuing-from-drowning in their chaste courtship. I think all the wet clothes and essential life-saving bodily contact is intended to be faith-friendly sexy. It isn’t. It does make them both look pretty clumsy, though.) There isn’t a plot so much as Reynolds stumbling randomly from one outrageous coincidence to another, while a very aggressive soundtrack attempts to inject some drama. The dialogue consists of moments of epic awfulness such as: “Would she be surprised if I showed her the uncorrected Parliamentary report I possess?” The entire endeavor is about as authentic as a theme park, with lots of cheesy fake accents and shooting locations on pseudo English estates in Michigan. When Reynolds arrives in Philadelphia, there’s a fife and drum corps just walking down the street fife-and-drumming. Because history!

Perhaps people who think Jesus was one of the American Founding Fathers will find this appealing. It’s hard to imagine anyone else will.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Beyond the Mask for its representation of girls and women.


red light half a star

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Beyond the Mask (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 06 2015

MPAA: rated PG for action, violence and some thematic elements

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Constable

    Oh come on, why not just use the source material. If you want an interesting story centered around Christianity why not pull one from your own book. If you want to mimic pop culture so bad then do what Marvel is doing. Dust off some old characters and modernize them with an origin story film.

  • Danielm80

    Actually, I’d love to turn on the TV and see a program that isn’t based on a Bible story.

  • LaSargenta

    I think it’s off the air now, but it used to be that every Monday you could see this: http://www.cbc.ca/littlemosque/index.php

    If you were in Canada.

    And there’s always reruns of M*A*S*H.

  • Bluejay

    “Would she be surprised if I showed her the uncorrected Parliamentary report I possess?”

    That way she’d know that he’s Christian, because usually it’s Jewish males who have their Parliamentary reports corrected, shortly after birth.

  • Constable

    Do you have American Network TV or something? Anyways, I was kind of trying to say “if you must then…”

  • Hank Graham

    Sorry, MaryAnn, but you’re completely missing the point.

    Swashbucklers get my money based on the single, essential point–how much swordplay is there, and of what quality?

    I’m not going to see this movie, but solely because it seems to have neglected this crucial aspect of swashbucklerdom.

    And my attitude about Christian movies is that most of them would be substantially improved by some well-staged sword fights. And perhaps a sword or two inserted through the folks optimistacally credited as “writers” of them.

  • There are no swordfights here. Some brief fisticuffs, but that’s it.

  • RogerBW

    Being able to call something a “faith-based movie” is at least as much about who produced it (people who can plausibly claim to be churchgoers rather than part of the Babylon that is Hollywood) and what isn’t in it (sex, moral problems that don’t have a simple Jesus-based answer) as about the actual content.

  • Jack

    This is an unusually harsh caricature of the film. I find it encouraging to know that not everyone thinks we need gore, blasphemy and sensuality in movies. This movie is pure fun and entertainment, and not poked through with garbage like so many other films today. Give it a break, and I’d recommend watching how you characterize others’ beliefs. “American evangelical Christianity these days is all about how Jesus wants you to be wealthy (and how poverty is a moral failing)” is an ignorant statement and that kind of slander drastically downgrades the quality of your opinions.

  • Danielm80

    I find it encouraging to know that not everyone thinks we need gore, blasphemy and sensuality in movies. This movie is pure fun and entertainment, and not poked through with garbage like so many other films today.

    You should date my cousin. She’s not a murderer.

  • Grant

    Wow. Angry power woman philosopher indeed.

    By the way, I loved this film.

  • Grant

    Actually, the final scene contains not one, but two sword fights. You can even see one of them briefly in the trailer.

  • Who said a movie needs “gore, blasphemy and sensuality” to be entertaining? I certainly never have.

  • Wow. Angry power woman philosopher indeed.

    Thank you for noticing.

    By the way, I loved this film.

    What did you love about it?

  • The Truth

    I loved the movie. It was something fresh. For once I walked into a theater and saw quality on screen and not sex, gore, or profanity. It matched up historically by what was going on those days. I don’t believe that Jesus was a founding father, I know that the founding fathers followed Him. It says it in their journals, in the Constitution, & in the Declaration of Independence. Christians have a right to make Hollywood quality movies, but decide to not make them with Hollywood scripts, and Christians have a right to make films based off of their faith. That’s the Truth.

  • I just saw the movie, and I don’t remember any swordfighting. (A couple of clangs of swords does not a swordfight make.) This film isn’t going to satisfy anyone who wants swordfights.

  • Christians can do whatever they please as long as they’re not infringing on anyone else’s right to do the same. Who’s stopping them? Certainly not me. But their movies are not immune to criticism.

    This:

    I know that the founding fathers followed Him

    is plain wrong in the sense that you mean it. The Founding Fathers were Deists, believers in a distant, uninvolved God because that was the only intellectually reasonable belief until evolution explained how humans could have evolved naturally. Today they would most definitely be appalled at how religion has infected the American political sphere.

    not sex, gore, or profanity

    Maybe the lack of that is enough for you, but most people who are not evangelical Christians also require interesting characters, a plausible plot, and good writing. This movie has none of those things.

  • Beowulf

    Is this an “unofficial” rip-off of Assassin’s Creed? I’m waiting for “Checkers, the motion picture.”

  • Beowulf

    Is this an “unofficial” rip-off of Assassin’s Creed? I’m waiting for “Checkers, the motion picture.”

  • Beowulf

    You need the law office of Sex, Gore, and Profanity. Number 1 in the tri-state area for 50 years!

  • Not at all. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was inspired, in wide, general sense, by the title of the game.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I know that the founding fathers followed Him.

    I know that’s what evangelicals and pentecostals are told nowadays, but as MaryAnn pointed out, they subscribed to deism, not christianity. That means they were atheistic about any personal gods… such as Jesus. The only chrstian values they ever defended are the ones that are so foundational of civilization that they could be called hindu or buddhist if those religions wanted to make that point.

  • Steve S

    Some founding fathers were deists, but there were different forms of deism anyway. Some forms (like Jefferson and Franklin’s) was a form of secularism. Thomas Paine was not any sort of believer. Washington was somewhat of a deist, but his beliefs were closer to Christianity. There were many devout Christian founding fathers as well. It’s incorrect to paint all the founding fathers as having the same beliefs, even about politics, but especially about God.

  • many devout Christian founding fathers

    Citation needed.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    That’s disgusting, not to mention totally uncalled for.

  • Bluejay

    Hey, you got the joke! Good for you.

    If you find circumcision disgusting, I’m afraid that’s your problem.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    You know very well it wasn’t the concept of circumcision itself; but rather the ugly way you insinuated that the male character was flashing (or exposing) himself to women through the metaphorical twisting of the “Parliamentary report”. I wouldn’t be surprised if you stereotypically label all theologically-conservative Christian pastors as pedophiles just because of a few errant Roman Catholic priests who made news headlines.

  • Bluejay

    That’s quite a lot to read into my joke. I’m very impressed.

  • Mutilating a baby for no reason is pretty disgusting.

  • Bluejay

    Good point.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    “Mutilating a baby for no reason is pretty disgusting.”

    Aha—So both you and MaryAnn Johanson are pro-life, then, despite denying America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Glad to hear it; although I can’t say I understand the consistency of your reasoning.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    The only “joke” I saw was off-color and stereotypically slamming, not the humorous type. As for the “reading into,” just making a guess as to your overall worldview based on the warped sense of humor you’ve shown here.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    There’s plenty of murder in mindless mainstream flicks, as well, if that’s the sole criteria you use when ascertaining the underlying moral-ethical relevance and consistency of a film.

  • feralcatadvocate47

    True. The fact is, both Jefferson and Franklin would be rolling in their graves if they could see the moral cesspool that they are being referenced to support by many atheists and agnostics nowadays. To hear them go on, one would think America only had two founding fathers instead of over two hundred.

  • No strawmen here. Stop it.

    If you are unable to have a reasonable conversation about this film, there is no need to comment here.

  • feralcatadvocate47
  • Bluejay

    Have fun with your assumptions.

  • Stop it.

  • Citation needed.

  • No, a citation from actual historians, not a Christian homeschooling site.

  • FSugino

    I loved the Mayoral Ball that takes place on July 3, but you can see the breath coming from the actors’ mouths. Nice attention to detail.

  • Kimberly

    Actually Beyond The Mask is a very endearing movie, which the above critic fails to give due credit to. The only unreal part is the scenes from the windmill building, which can be likened to what society has come to accept from Hollywood in every other action packed movie that has been produced since the 1980s. Still with the great disappointment this creates the movie itself is still worth viewing with the heart and intellect one might view a Pirate of the Carriabean movie with.

  • What’s endearing about it?

  • sandnomad

    The name of Christ.

  • Bluejay

    Harold? (Oh, whoops; that’s his dad.)

  • In what way is “the name of Christ” “endearing”?

  • feralcatadvocate47

    Oh, so they’re not “real” historians unless they agree with your PC revisionist presuppositions from liberal academia. Perfectly clear now.

  • Bluejay

    Wow, it took you 10 months to come up with that burn? Impressive.

    https://media.giphy.com/media/l2JHVUriDGEtWOx0c/giphy.gif

  • Thank you for beautifully making my point about lack of reading comprehension and seeing only what you want to see in someone’s words.

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