Netflix wastes its brilliant premise and ending twist on a shallow treatment of religion that actually makes one grateful that the faith-based film industry alternative exists.
“The Chosen One” is a TV series based on the first part of the graphic novel trilogy “American Jesus” by legendary comic book writer Mark Millar (“Ultimates,” “Kick-Ass,” “Civil War,” “Kingsman,” “Superman: Red Son” and “Wanted”). The six-part first season is based on the first graphic novel in the trilogy, titled “Chosen,” and follows a 12-year-old boy named Jodie who gains powers that resemble Jesus’ from the gospels and starts to believe he might be the second coming himself.
I read “American Jesus Part 1: Chosen” as a teen many years ago. I was always impressed by its premise and particularly its ending twist (which we’ll get to later). The idea of a kid who grew up on superheroes — and “chosen one” stories like “Star Wars” and “Lord of The Rings” — believing that it not only was happening to him but that he was the person that whole modern “chosen one” trope was based on, Jesus, was a deeply relatable way to subvert a whole host of genres. It also made the questions Jesus poses when he confronts people who need a savior more personal.
This, of course, even more deeply resonated with me because I was a superhero fan and a Christian — something I shared in common with the writer or the original graphic novel series.
Mark Millar told the U.K.-based Daily Express:
“As a boy, I did a painting for my mum of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a red robe over his shoulders – and I thought, ‘This looks like Superman’s cape’. It must have been the most muscle-bound Jesus ever, but my mum still put it up. He looked like the Hulk. A superhero is a guy who tries to help people and there’s a constant element of self-sacrifice so the two ideals didn’t feel so far apart. I found the same ethos in Marvel Comics I found in a Catholic school.”
When the show is leaning into this premise of ordinary kids who would probably read comic books becoming a messiah and disciples, it really works. Jodie and his friends are a rascally band of scamps like you’d see in “Stranger Things” or the throwback ‘80s movies that inspired that show. When we see these kids and their relationship attempting to grapple with the potential messiahship of their friend, and the ways that it eventually tears them apart, it is poignant and affecting.
When we see all the members of the town with their own levels of religious belief or general brokenness encounter a savior whom they almost treat as a fairy tale until they encounter him for real (and how they react to it) we get a reflection of ourselves and the beautiful and toxic ways we try to get any potential messiah to meet our needs.
It’s pretty obvious why this would be a perfect story to tell today. What with TV evangelists claiming prophetic power to predict future events who are gaining thousands of followers (even after they get their prophecies wrong) and political leaders being treated as messiahs by their voters, exploring in a deep way how our contemporary need for a messiah can draw out the best and worst of us is almost a gimme.
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