Dogma (1999) Review
Having not watched Dogma in years, it was interesting getting back into it again during this little run of watching all the Askew movies from Kevin Smith. In a lot of ways, I'd say this is possibly his best-made film in a lot of ways, despite some issues I'll get in down the line. It also sees Smith do something he hasn't done yet in any of these movies, an element of the supernatural.
Dogma follows a Catholic woman who is having a crisis of faith only to be visited by the Metatron, the Voice of God, who is calling on her to undertake a pilgrimage to stop Loki and Bartleby. They are two fallen angels who are banished from Heaven and live in Wisconson. Someone tipped them off to a loophole in Catholic Dogma that would allow for them to clear themselves of sin and finally being able to go home. Unknown to them is that by proving God wrong and making it back into heaven, they disprove the fundamental rule that keeps the universe in existence, God is Infallible.
The synopsis I just gave you makes this sound like a deadly serious movie, but remember this is an Askew movie, meaning it's only a matter of time before Jay and Silent Bob show up. They are the destined Prophets who are going to help Bethany get to New Jersey and stop the Angels from unmaking the world, making this their most prominent role in any of these movies so far, Jay and Silent Bob are instrumental to protecting the world.
This is where I love Kevin Smith as a director, his ability to mix the comedy and the serious nature of the movie seamlessly. Jay and Silent Bob never stop feeling like Jay and Silent Bob just because things get serious, and their absurd nature as characters never detract from what's going on. The growing desperation of Bartleby as he starts to realize that people are trying to stop him and Loki from going home does not feel at all out of place next to Silent Bob defeating a demon made out of literal shit with extra strength odor spray. There are not a lot of people out there who can mix these two things to such good effect.
You get a lot of action in this movie too, something that hasn't been featured heavily in any Askew movie thus far, and it all plays out great. On one hand, it's not nearly as well-choreographed as you would expect in an action film, but it always has the intended impact. The action scenes are all pretty brief and not the main focus, so it's not too big of a deal that they weren't put together by someone experienced in this type of thing.
The characters are also fantastic. While it's nice to see Jay and Silent Bob starting to grow more as characters with the progression of these movies, the show is stolen by Ben Affleck as Bartleby. Just to see how he changes from the beginning of the film as just this guy who wants to go home, to what he ends up becoming by the end is fantastic. It's interesting to see this guy full of hope and optimism become such a cruel villain right alongside seeing Bethany, who starts as Jaded and angry gradually turn into the hero. That isn't to take away from anyone else's performance, pretty much the entire cast is fantastic here.
Where the movie shines is how powerful it's themes are, and I think people are mistaken to look at the show as either pro or anti-religious. While Smith himself was, at the time, a Catholic, the show is tackling Dogmatic Beliefs, hence the name of the movie. The thing being 'attacked' by the film (I don't know if that's the best way to describe it, but it's close enough) is this strict adherence to a belief that one is simply unwilling to change or challenge. A bit unrelated to the movie itself, it's kind of neat that in that sense it's themes are not all that different from 'The Life of Brian', showing that this same idea can exist from both the atheist and religious perspective.
Despite the powerful themes and fantastic characters, in addition to that unique and great dialogue, Smith is known for, there are a couple of issues with the story. One of which is the more you think about the premise, the more flawed it becomes. The reason Bethany is tapped to stop the angels is God is incapacitated by the man pulling the strings to get the angels back into heaven. If God can so easily be incapacitated, we've already established that God is fallible. That is, of course, unless this was all a ruse and there was never actually any threat anyway. I could go on, but no matter how I look at it at least one of the core premises of the narrative can't be true for this movie to have resolved like this, and this does not sit well with me.
The second one is the movie is trying to paint God as the good guy buy... God's kind of an unlikeable asshole given the history the movie puts forward. The fate bestowed upon the Angels is downright cruel. The show want's to paint God in such a good light by how everyone who isn't the Angels views her, but to look at what is expected of them and their very nature I don't see how anyone could be on God's side here. Now, this is directed just at the depiction in this show, the actual religion, in reality, is a different subject entirely.
Even though those to things do bother me a lot, I still absolutely love this movie. I think a person could easily make the argument that this is his best film to date. It's hilarious, at times funnier than any of his previous films I think, some fun action beats, and he handles some pretty deep subject matter wonderfully. Yeah, there are those couple of big flaws in the movie, but it isn't enough to hold it back from being an all-time classic. Check it out.