Movie review: Kanye West's 'Jesus is King' is not the gospel

30-minute accompaniment to rapper's new album a stiff art experiment

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

To say Kanye West's IMAX film "Jesus is King" is for fans only is to do a disservice to the rapper's fans. 

No, "Jesus is King" is for the hardest of the hardcore Kanye West superfans only, and even that is questionable. 

The 30-minute promo reel — it's neither a concert film or a documentary — is made up of only a handful of shots, mostly footage of the sky, on-screen bible verse quotes and performance footage of Kanye's Sunday Service gospel choir.

An image from Kanye West's "Jesus is King."

Kanye himself doesn't show up on screen until the midway point, and he's mostly shot from behind as he nods along with the 30-odd member choir's stirring, full-bodied set pieces. 

Filmed at artist James Turrell's Roden Crater in the northern Arizona desert, director Nick Knight frames "Jesus is King" like a 1970s art film. He toys with the aspect ratio and is drawn to circular shapes; much of the film is shot like you're watching it through a round keyhole. Later, he switches to an oval frame, a waste of the oversize IMAX screen on which the film is projected. 

There is music; along with an intimate chorus-only rendition of "Street Lights," a favorite from "808s & Heartbreak," there are previews of several songs from Kanye's accompanying "Jesus is King" album, set for a Friday release.

Kanye (or his hand and his bare chest, at least) is seen humming a portion of new song "Use the Gospel" while holding a baby, presumably his infant son Psalm West, while the horn-infused "Every Knee Shall Bow," not included in the pre-release track listing, plays over the closing credits.

And there's not much more to it than that. Kanye's charisma, his performance energy, his very essence are missing, a calculated denial of audience expectation. Some artists don't play your favorite song in concert. "Jesus is King" is like if the artist himself decided to skip the show. 

'Jesus is King'


Not rated: Nothing objectionable

Running time: 30 mins