The origin story: Every superhero gets one. We’ve returned to Smallville with Superman. We’ve seen Batman begin. We’ve watched Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider in not one but two blockbuster franchises. Now, the archetypal superhero, Jesus Christ himself, gets the origin-story treatment in “The Young Messiah.”
It’s a novel approach to a story that’s been told a million times before—based on a novel, actually, by Anne Rice titled “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.” “The Young Messiah” envisions what life might have been like for Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) as a seven-year-old boy who’s just beginning to understand his powers. In many ways, he’s like a regular kid. He likes to run around and play tag. He gets bullied. And like all little boys who love their mommies, he enjoys snuggling with Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and hearing her tell stories.
But! He can also bring a dead bird back to life. He can make his sick uncle well. And he can restore sight to a blind rabbi. And as he travels from Egypt back to Nazareth with Mary and his father, Joseph (Vincent Walsh), he learns to hone his abilities and—spoiler!—ultimately accept his identity and responsibility as the Son of God.
The humanistic elements of the story are the stronger than the religious ones, however. Director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh approaches the miraculous moments of Jesus’ journey in earnest fashion—albeit with the benefit of production values that are superior to the ones we’ve seen in most religious films recently. (This is the problem I usually have with faith-based movies: It’s not the content, it’s the execution.) Some of Nowrasteh’s imagery can be lovely—widescreen images of the desert, or the sight of the sweet-faced, curly-haired Jesus bathed in heavenly sunlight—even as the action sequences and flashbacks have a hilariously cheesy quality, especially when they’re meant to be harrowing.