'Risen' Picks Up Where 'Passion' Left Off

by Katherine Cusumano

If Mel Gibson had his way, The Passion of the Christ would have been released without subtitles translating its screenplay. Filmed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin, the film aimed to "transcend language barriers with filmic storytelling," as Gibson explained to ABC News. But Gibson gave way to distributor pressures and Passion was released with subtitles — and it went on to earn a whopping worldwide gross of just over $600 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It's a tough act to follow, but numerous Biblical epics have pursued in its wake. The latest, Risen, seems to pick up where The Passion of the Christ left off. But is Risen a sequel to The Passion of the Christ ?

Risen stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion named Clavius, who's charged with investigating the circumstances of Jesus's death in the 40 days following his crucifixion. Pontius Pilate sends him to track down the missing, presumably stolen, body of Christ to quell talks of resurrection in the days just before the Emperor is slated to visit the region. Chronologically, it takes place just following the events of The Passion of the Christ. This makes it a plausible sequel to the Mel Gibson hit, but it's not an official follow-up to the 2004 breakout Biblical film.

According to the Christian Post, Risen posits itself as a spiritual successor to The Passion of the Christ. "Twelve years after the blockbuster film about Jesus' crucifixion and many others like it," the press release reads, " Risen picks up where that film dropped off in the biblical story of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension." At least for marketing purposes, the filmmakers seem to hope to capitalize on the success of The Passion of the Christ. And it's true, few Biblical story adaptations since The Passion of the Christ have had the same success — both Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, massive budget interpretations of well-trodden stories, didn't perform as well as the studios likely hoped. Noah' s global box office reached $362 million on a $125 million budget and Exodus ' reached $268 million on a $140 million budget.

Still, they share certain elements: Where The Passion of the Christ leaves off with Jesus's resurrection, Risen attempts to answer the question of what really happened following the events depicted in Passion. From a purely technical perspective, Risen and The Passion of the Christ also share an editor in Steve Mirkovich.

"It captivates the non-religious as much as it does the religious," Tom Felton, who plays a young sidekick to Clavius named Lucius (no relation to his Harry Potter character's father), told USA Today, comparing it to a detective film more than a Biblical epic. Where The Passion of the Christ depicted a particular Christian interpretation of the death of Jesus, Risen takes a more secular approach. Its main character is a skeptic; he charts a path, as Fiennes described to USA Today, of "redemption, forgiveness, and a second chance" — a grand gesture Fiennes said he hopes will attract a more diverse audience than a mythological approach to well-known Biblical stories.

Long story short, Risen isn't precisely a sequel to The Passion of the Christ. It's a successor of a sort, picking up at least chronologically where Mel Gibson's predecessor tapered off. But thematically it focuses on a narrative that's accessible to audiences both religious and not — and that could prove to its advantage in the box office.

Images: Columbia Pictures (2)