– Summary –
Director : Scott Stewart
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Paul Bettany, Tyrese Gibson, Dennis Quaid, Adrianne Palicki, Charles S Dutton, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh, Kevin Durand, Willa Holland, Jon Tenney, Doug Jones.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: The Apocalypse has come (at last!) to humanity, and a group of disparate people shelter in an out-of-the way diner: a fallen Angel, Michael, arrives to protect the unborn baby of one of the group from the oncoming evil.
What we think : Wishy-washy religious overtones aside, Legion isn’t as bad as I’d heard, but it’s not that great either. Problematic scripting, an implausible concept beset with all kinds of logic issues, and a cast of first rate actors delivering second rate performances, make Legion a frustrating watch. Paul Bettany, while I’m certain he had a a great time making this film, looks like he swallowed a bag of lemons the whole time, and the criminally underused Charles S Dutton once more proves that he should fire his agent. Derivative – yes, terrible, not quite, but it’s not really a good film outside of a few key moments.
End of the world films seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days, with Hollywood constantly looking for new ways to bring about our destruction – asteroids, giant robotic invasions, Mayan soothsayers and some bastard known as Galactus have, at some point, all tried to end civilization as we know it, and most of the time, they’ve failed. A sub-genre in the apocalypse film class is the Religious Wipeout, by which God decides that he’s had enough of us and our porn, facebook and consumerism and decides to allow humanity to be destroyed (either by our own means, or by the means in which God doesn’t intervene) – setting us on a journey towards our ultimate salvation. Instead of just reaching His hand down and smiting us all with a giant thunderbolt, He sees fit to send his minions to do it for him – often with the head-spinny, pea-green-spewey effects associated with the oncoming apocalypse. Hollywood seems to have confused the Devil’s work with Gods these days, and Legion tries to ride the coattails of this ineptitude and smother us with “what if” scares and postulations. How is it that so many End Of Days films are layered (mired?) in religious theology and Christian doomsaying? Is it the fact that humanity has always tried to figure out God’s grand plan for the world, and we’re still stumped even thousands of years later, or is it simply the fact that Christianity (and I say this with the greatest respect, of course) has the most convoluted and intertwined historical mythology of all the major religions? Hollywood’s fascination with Christianity’s many secrets has led to a certain degree of mysticism with the faith, and along with giving us The DaVinci Code, seems intent on delving into every nook and cranny of textual, iconic or mythological implications the Bible might impart.
I’m not here to give a dissertation on Christianity’s influence over Hollywood (or vice versa, for that matter), but contextually, Legion is a film filled with plenty of ideas based, in part, on a cobblers cookhouse of untruths and mistakes. I ain’t no expert on the End Times, as they might be portrayed in Legion, but I’d pretty well be sure it wouldn’t involve a convoluted “virgin birth” style story of some messianic figure and the protection thereof. Michael (Paul Bettany) is an Angel descended from Heaven to protect the unborn child carried by fly-stop-diner waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) from danger; God has decided that humanity needs to be exterminated, and sends his minions to destroy everything. As the world plunges into apocalyptic chaos, a group of people at the Paradise Falls diner must fight for survival against an increasingly powerful army of possessed, and ultimately from the Archangel Gabriel, who seeks to destroy Charlie’s baby on orders from God himself.
Legion is not a great film. Sometimes, it treads the edge of being truly terrible before a glimpse of cool steps in to pull it back from the precipice. Vast chunks of time is spent during this film developing characters who’re going to live only just barely past the opening credits, and it’s painful to witness. The apocalypse, such as it is, seems to come in stages, instead of (what I’d expect to be a more logical undertaking) to just go gangbusters all over the place. Sod this one-minion-at-a-time rubbish. If you’re gonna attack a building the size of a luxury Porta-loo, why waste time with useless minions and possessed? If you’re the Angel army sent from heaven to smite a young baby, wouldn’t you have the power to just obliterate the building in an instant? I’d have assumed as much, but it seems that might impinge on the story being any good. As it happens, it doesn’t matter anyway, because the story just ain’t no chop. Scott Stewart apparently re-wrote Peter Schink’s original screenplay, so I guess the question has to be asked: how bad was Schink’s stuff that this is the better option? Characters are two dimensional at best, with even Paul Bettany looking annoyed with the dearth of genuine emotion in the script, and even when character development is attempted, it falls flat in the framework of the oncoming storm of carnage. These people are either idiots, rednecks, gangastas or just plain annoying. You’ve got the cliched spoiled brat, the angry black man, the older angry black man (why does Hollywood perpetuate the myth that all African American’s must have an attitude?) the grizzled shop owner, his slack-jawed son, and the gorgeous, unattainable pregnant woman who just happens to be about to give birth to the savior of the world.
The script crawls along at times, almost deadeningly so, refusing to inject any real tension or emotion into what begins as a fairly flat film experience. Once Jeanette Miller appears, playing the old lady who not only curses like a sailor but crawls up the ceiling like some sort of spider woman, a little bit of that spine-tingling eeriness creeps in, but then we’re subjected to another ten or fifteen minutes of characters trying to emote and make us believe that they shouldn’t be killed off. As the attacking monsters of the Apocalypse descend on the diner in increasing quantities, the body count starts to rise, and the degeneration of this film from a potentially genuinely exciting thriller into a shoddy, poorly written religious bastardization is complete. Stewart has the look of the film down fine, it’s just that the story underneath it isn’t very strong. At least, not strong enough to support our journey into madness. The motives of the entire film are thinly plausible at best, half mysticism and half religious mumbo-jumbo, and in the end you’re just as confused as you were at the start.
The entire cast have very little to do except look either confused, awed or, in the case of Paul Bettany, like he’s just spent the day picking lice from his pubic hair. Bettany, as the lead actor in this thing, comes in with a load of pissed-off and sprays it all over the film, making his supposedly sympathetic character of Michael just a wanker with no wings. Oh, he also gets to fire really cool guns, but that only last a few minutes or so. Yawn. Dennis Quaid tries to overcome the scripts shortcomings by giving his diner-owner character some sort of facial tic that just makes me want to slap him, while Lucas Black is barely coherent as the mumbling, glowering son who lusts after the pregnant Charlie. Speaking of, Adrianne Palicki does a good job as Charalie, but we don’t get much of her back-story save a few half comments and mysterious glances: given she’s pretty central to the story, you’d think we’d be made to give a crap about her, but we don’t. Charles S Dutton, who played one of my favorite characters in Alien 3, seems to me to be a pretty decent actor, but once more he’s let down by a truly terrible film choice. Man, Charles, you need to hit the mainstream somehow, cos this crap might pay the bills, but it ain’t doing you any favors, good sir. Dutton’s character is the Bible-reading religious touchstone, because if there’s one thing we all need during the Apocalypse, it’s an expositional frame of reference. Kevin Durand does a lip-curling job as Gabriel, Micheal’s angelic brother, who comes down to Earth and engages in a Matrix-style fistfight with his wingless enemy. Why is it that Angels, who could probably summon some other kind of superpower derived from Heaven, just simply stand around and beat each other with their fists?
Scripting and acting aside, the film does have a few cool moments (Doug Jones’s now iconic Ice Cream Man creature, as well as the diner battle between Michael and Gabriel, which, while being completely illogical, is still pretty sweet to watch!) that keep your finger away from the stop button. But it’s not enough. The laborious pacing, the laughable dialogue in place of actual storytelling and development, just ruins what could have been a good action film. Or drama. Or whatever kind of film this was supposed to be. On a superficial level, it’s probably entertaining enough not to be bottom-feeding rubbish, but it’s certainly not the greatest film I’ve ever seen, and hell, I’d never watch it again if anybody offered to sit through it with me. If you’re looking for salvation at the end of the world, this isn’t the film to watch to get a handle on it.
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