“Legion” Clips Its Own Wings

Posted: February 1, 2010 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

"Legion" Movie Poster

I don’t know about you, but God has always struck me as being one sadistic SOB. I mean, who but a true sadist would create such an inherently flawed species a humanity to begin with? Then send his own son to live amongst us knowing full well from the get-go that we’d end up killing him?  And that his death, supposedly meant to “redeem” us through blood sacrifice, would quite obviously backfire, since it didn’t change human nature one bit? Think about it : I could see plopping your son down here and letting us kill him if it meant we’d get our shit together, but the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus didn’t bring about any change for the better on our part whatsoever : war, greed, depravity, selfishness — all the problems that plagued our kind before God’s purported son was sacrificed to save us all didn’t exactly go away after Christ (again, supposedly) died and was resurrected, did they? We’ve got as much of all that today as ever — hell, we’ve got MORE of it than ever. So if God’s only begotten son dying was supposed to have some sort of profound effect on us all, I’d say it’s “mission unaccomplished” all the way.

Of course, basic biology is God’s cruelest trick of all, is it not? I mean, who but the ultimate sadistic mastermind would trap us in living, breathing tombs that deteriorate  and decay more the longer we’re here? The more we learn, the less time we have to use that knowledge, since every passing moment brings us one small step closer to our inevitable end. I would think a TRULY loving God would have created humanity to age in reverse or something, so that the longer we’re here, the healthier, stronger, and more vital we become. So me, I think God’s had it in for us from day one, and things like killing his kid probably just added to the animosity he had for us from the very beginning (not that he seems to have been in that big a hurry to take his revenge on us for that one — and again, he apparently saw it coming the whole time anyway), and according to visual FX guru Scott Stewart’s feature directorial debut, “Legion,” (not to be confused with William Peter Blatty’s fine third “Exorcist” film, also titled “Legion”) he’s finally had enough.

The Lord of Hosts has sent a plague of angels to wipe our sorry kind out once and for all, but there’s a catch : the Archangel Michael  (well-portrayed by Paul Bettany), a respected  General in God’s army, still thinks we’re worth keeping around for some reason, and he’s come down to Earth to try to save us from his the destructive horde unleashed by his boss.

The scene of the final battle of the biblical apocalypse is a suitably curious one(even if the name of the locale in which it takes place is almost painfully obvious : “Paradise Falls”) : a crummy truckstop cafe on the outskirts of the Mojave desert, where a pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) is about to give birth to a child that will supposedly save us from God’s wrath. With her in this last stand are the cafe’s owner, Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid, who’s sure been doing a lot of genre work recently), his son Jeep (Lucas Black), who’s sweet on Charlie even though the kid’s not his (in fact, the exact identity of the father is never mentioned — but we’ll get to that shortly), short-order cook and Bob’s best buddy, Percy Walker (Charles S. Dutton, who it’s always great to see), a guy with a purportedly “Shady” past fleeing the devastation in Las Vegas (probably the first place I’d destroy if I were God) named Kyle Williams (the ever-odious Tyrese Gibson), and the seemingly well-to-do Anderson family of  father Howard, mother Sandra, and quasi-rebellious teenage daughter Audrey (Jon Tenney, Kate Walsh and Willa Holland, respectively), who are moving to a new town and have gotten lost along the way.

Our guy (errr—okay, our angel) Michael has showed up in a cop car he “appropriated” when he first landed in LA loaded with a veritable arsenal of formidable automatic firepower, and intends to see that Charlie gives birth no matter what, but lined up against our ragtag band of survivors-who-are-not-all-destined-to-survive is an endless horde of murderous zombies (well, technically they’re people possessed by the spirits of avenging angels) lead by another archangel we’ve all heard of,  Gabriel (Kevin Durand).

So essentially what we’ve got going here is another new twist on the zombie genre, one that’s unique enough in its own right, I suppose, but hardly makes for super-compelling viewing for a variety of reasons. While the CGI effects are uniformly effective and at times even downright creepy, and the same can be said for the atmospherics of the film in general (for instance, when an ice cream truck driven by a possessed zombie good-humor man comes driving up the lonely dirt road to the cafe in the black of night with its headlights shining and that annoying ice-cream truck music blaring, it’s genuinely unsettling), but these small saving graces (no pun intended) can’t make up for the fact that the movie itself is a rather discombobulated affair with too many ideas that go unexplored and too many that are explored giving way to cop-out explanations.

Which brings us back to the unmentioned father of Charlie’s baby and why its birth is supposedly going to save us all. In a movie wearing this much religious iconography on its sleeve so blatantly, you’re probably thinking “aha! Virgin birth!” or something, but no — this is no second coming she’s carrying in her womb, and the baby isn’t going to save us all because it’s the new messiah and that’s what messiahs generally do — you see, Charlie was thinking of having an abortion, decided against it, and now is determined to give the kid up for adoption. However, her going changing her mind and going ahead and having the baby will supposedly change everything in terms ofthe whole universal equation because the baby “wasn’t supposed to be,” and hey, ifshe decides to keep it and raise it herself, that REALLY screws up the natural running order of the universe! Oh, and as for who the dad is — they never say, but it stops really mattering, anyway, once you realize he’s probably just some interchangeable white trash bar pickup.

Another big cop-out lies in the fact that this super-powered zombie horde powered by the very wrath of God’s avengers themselves can be killed just by being shot. And not even shot in the head like ordinary zombies, just kind of shot anywhere. Come on, God can do better than that if he really wants us out of the picture!

Yet ANOTHER magnificently huge cop-out comes at the end of Michael and Gabriel’s big head-to-head battle royale that the whole movie’s been building up towards, but I’ll skimp on the details of that one so as not to be too much of a “spoiler jerk.”

Then we’ve got the finale itself, which we get too after some seriously befuddlingly nonsensical plot acrobatics that see Jeep inheriting some of Michael’s powers and taking over the role of Charlie and her baby’s protector from him now that the child has been born. I seriously have to wonder if this is a new, tacked-on ending that was shot after preview screeners gave a thumbs-down to the original finale or something, because for a movie that’s relatively high-quality CGI effects and suitably authentic sets for its first 90 minutes or so, suddenly we find ourselves on an all-too-obvious sound stage standing in for a high cliff (even the boulders look visibly phony) and the standard of the visual FX goes from pretty-near-top-of-the-line to the digital equivalent of painted Hollywood backdrops. The dialogue starts to seem pretty forced and rushed, as well — not that it’s ever too terribly realistic at all, but exchanges like Jeep to Michael “Will we ever see you again,” Michael to Jeep : “Have faith,” feel like they decided to tack on an opening for a potential sequel almost as a quick afterthought. So yeah, all in all the ending feels like a do-over that they shot in one afternoon after all the money had run out.

All that being said, I didn’t hate “Legion,” or anything close to it. There are a lot of neat ideas in here, even for a non-religious guy like myself, but it feels like they’re trying to load too many concepts on us in one go and haven’t really thought any of them through, at least not in a way that has any teeth. the gore effects are solid and there are some genuinely grotesque kills for those of you interested in such things (as most readers of this blog probably are), but all in all I have to say its somewhat frustrating that the best thing about this film turns out to be the window dressing, because Bettany delivers a solid turn in the title role and there are a lot of intriguing concepts at the core of the proceedings here, they just either go nowhere at all, or go nowhere interesting.

“Legion” is a movie with lots of wings, but it doesn’t really end up flying anywhere.

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