Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Legion (2010): A Review (Review #175)


I am rather surprised that Legion didn't bring about a great deal of controversy among Christian circles. I imagine it was because Christians had enough sense to realize the film was so dull, cliche-driven and stupid that even the most ardent atheist would avoid it.

Michael (Paul Bettany), an angel from Heaven, comes down to Earth, appropriately to the City of Angels. He is a mission, one that means defying the very will of God. Meanwhile, there is an eight-month pregnant woman named Charlie (Adrienne Palicki) working as a waitress at an out-of-the way truck stop somewhere in Arizona with the rather poetic (and perhaps, symbolic) name of Paradise Falls. Although we never know who the father of her child actually is, we do know that her 'guardians', truck stop owner Bob (Dennis Quaid), his mechanic son Jeep (Lucas Black), who is in love with her and her baby, and loyal cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton) are all fond of her.

At this stop, we have a family stranded because of a malfunctioning vehicle: father Howard (Jon Tenney), wife Sandra (Kate Walsh) and daughter Aubrey (Willa Holland). Also wandering in is Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), belying the idea that truck stops in isolated Arizona outposts never get any customers. There is one more person who comes in, a sweet little old lady complete with a walker who introduces herself as Gladys (Jeanette Miller), as traditional an old lady name as one could find. Of course, she isn't a sweet little old lady. She's an angel-possessed woman (emphasis mine), who tries to kill the customers, specifically Charlie and her baby, who must never be born.

Michael arrives at the stop just after Gladys goes on a rampage (a delight to watch, I must confess: what's not fun about watching an old woman go all psycho and Spider-Man), and tells them that people are being possessed by angels (emphasis mine) to get at Charlie's baby. God has lost faith in humanity, Michael tells them, and so He's decided to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Michael thinks this is wrong, but what pushes him to go rogue is God's decision to kill the unborn child, because this child is Humanity's last hope and God doesn't want that.

The rest of Legion involves angel-possessed beings taking various shapes (from ice cream truck salesmen to, well, the most/least likely suspect) attempting to trick the people inside to come out and be killed. As it happens, a few are misled, and we have them bumped off one by one (sometimes in rather horrifying ways), but, in spite of the efforts of Michael's former comrade Gabriel (Kevin Durand), the child is born, and the Important Ones (that would be Charlie, Jeep, and Aubrey) all flee Paradise Falls.

Michael and Gabriel will have one final battle, and I guess there was a happy ending.

A group of disparate strangers trapped together in a desert truck stop while besieged by otherworldly beings for some reason doesn't strike one as an original idea. However, the script by Peter Schink and director Scott Stewart isn't as far as I know going for originality or even correct theology. Legion, I figure, is going for terror and horror, two things angels are known for. I didn't think that having a black man carry a piece for no defined reason was original. I didn't think having a family stranded because of a malfunctioning car was original. Finally, the 'possessed by angels' bit: that does trouble me.

It makes me think Schink and Stewart may not have a firm understanding of what angels are. Angels, from what I've been taught, are messengers, not hitmen. I would figure God, being all powerful, wouldn't need to have his messengers take over mortals to get His message across. Furthermore, why would God want to kill an unborn child who will save Humanity from His wrath, let alone by such an elaborate method? The script never makes clear as to why God wants to kill the child (thus making Him the new Herod in a way), we never know how this child will save Humanity, we never know if the child's father is important to the child's, is divine destiny the right phrase?

Well, in Legion, none of those details are important: all we're suppose to know is that this Child is the Enemy of God because the Child will save Humanity from God, and thus God needs to kill the Child because God wants to destroy humanity. Therefore, God can't just strike the Child down (assuming He would want to) or send the Four Horsemen to bring Mankind down. No, He has to send his angels on a homicidal spree in the middle of the desert.

Got that?

The performances were weak en masse. Bettany was doing his best Jason Statham impression in Legion, scowling and growling and packing heat with abandon. He must have had a roaring time doing an action film, but I think it would have been slightly more believable if Statham had played Michael. I figure both Michael and Gabriel were the Archangels, though it was never openly stated, and I wonder if defying the will of God, no matter how nutty, would make Michael the new Lucifer, but I digress.

Black had a blank stare throughout, no emotion, unless the same face is used when expressing unrequited love or sheer terror. Gibson plays a stereotypical role (black man with a gun), but there was no development to his character. It might be too much to ask for such things, but I still have hope. Both Dutton (as a gentle cook with an artificial arm, again, for no reason and no explanation) and Quaid (apparently not taking any of this seriously if I judge by his performance) are both wasted in nothing roles. I'll say that Holland (who looked familiar and then remembered as bad girl Kaitlin from The O.C.) is quite pretty, but other than this being a way to get a screen credit she did herself few favors in this film.

Moreover, Legion was at times boring in its predictability. The climatic fight scene between Gabriel and Michael was sometimes hard to follow do to John Lindley's dark cinematography where you couldn't tell who was who or what was what. Only the fact that Michael had no wings (he had cut them off) helped you figure out which one he was. The film was very overt in its attempts to look scary, with lights and fog in the dark. You also have to consider that for most of Legion, it looked like Night of the Zombie Demons, because for some reason the idea of angels possessing humans to commit murder just doesn't make any sense.

The movie leaves a slight opening for a sequel, but unfortunately that sequel is Terminator 2. In fact, Legion seems to echo far better films, and I wonder if Scott meant for that. The child who must be killed in order to stop him saving the world: Terminator. When they group slowly escapes a group of zombie angels by slowly walking out of the truck stop: The Birds. In fact, there were two echoes of The Birds in Legion, and when a film you're watching reminds you of other films you'd rather be watching, that is not a good sign.

The thinking behind Legion is all wrong. I don't think God will ever go to such lengths to kill someone who, I presume, could bring humanity back to the right path. Wouldn't He want to do His all to protect said child? It does seem rather presumptuous for an Angel, even if it is Michael, to tell God that He's wrong in His desire to wipe Man out of existence. Leaving the bad theology aside, Legion suffers from bad acting, no story, and laughable dialogue.

How do you not laugh when someone tries to build fear by demanding to see someone's teeth? I hope that this Legion is few.

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