(Long Island, N.Y.) Legion, helmed by first-time director Scott Stewart, is basically a Catholic-themed remake of James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. How, you may ask? Simple- let’s run down some basic plot points about the main character and see if you can tell which flick I’m actually talking about:
- A lone, naked man magically materializes in a dirty urban back alley after traveling a great distance. He is initially confused and in pain but quickly recovers.
- He steals clothing and firearms.
- He gets into an altercation with the cops.
- He steals a car.
- He sets off to find and protect the woman (who happens to work as a waitress) whose child will lead humanity out of an impending apocalypse and back onto the road to salvation.
- When he finds her, she initially doesn’t believe his story involving a Greater Power’s decision to enact Judgment Day on the human race. She sure believes him once people start dying all over the place, however.
- He is pursued by another being from his point of origin who is determined to stop the child savior’s birth at all costs. This being is superhuman, unstoppable, and pretty mean.
Honestly, up until now I could be talking about either film, really. It’s only when you get into the specifics do the differences between the two become clear. Yes, Legion borrows a tad (okay, maybe more than a tad) from The Terminator, but it also mixes in such good old-fashioned cinematic stand-bys such as zombies, Angels, and a healthy dose of Old Testament-style fire and brimstone. The result is a very solid but not outstanding action/horror movie which is equal parts excitement, humor, and boredom.
Okay, our movie opens like this: Kyle Reese…wait, I mean renegade archangel Michael (Paul Bettany, who has starred in a wide variety of roles, including A Knight’s Tale, A Beautiful Mind, and as the voice of JARVIS in Iron Man) flies down from Heaven, cuts off his wings (eew), and heads off to save mankind against his boss’ wishes. It seems that God is sick of mankind’s bad habits of stealing, murdering, and creating soulless pop music, and is set to bring about Armageddon for a second time to show us what for. Michael rebels because he still sees all the good we, as a race, are capable of, which only ticks God off even more. But instead of repeating history with a yet another flood (we have lots of boats now, ha ha), The Almighty decides to have his Angels start possessing human beings, turning them into zombies and pitting them against each other.
Soon the Earth is tearing itself apart, and the only hope for humanity’s survival lies in the belly of a single trailer park waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), 8 months pregnant (and still smoking cigarettes…what a good mommy!) and working in a greasy spoon diner in the middle of the New Mexico desert. It turns out that her unborn child is actually the Second Coming of Christ (well, they never actually SAY that, but given what happens in the latter half of the movie, what else could he be?), and his birth will usher in a new era of peace and redemption for our planet, provided Michael can hold off the legions of God’s horrific minions long enough…
There’s not much to Legion, frankly. Yeah, I know the premise is actually pretty dark and interesting, but it’s merely just a set-up for cool action scenes and slow-as-molasses “character development” bits that just drag and drag and drag. Normally I will angrily deride a film for glossing over its characters and their motivations, but in Legion such scenes are actually a detriment. Here, these sequences come across as slow, stiff, and tacked on as an afterthought, bogging down the pace with awkward (and at times embarrassing) attempts to “humanize” characters that end up getting killed 10 minutes later anyway. In an otherwise
energetic film like Legion, it’s better to let the character’s personalities speak for themselves on the fly.
Speaking of personalities, we have ourselves an ensemble cast here, which is why Legion works better than, in theory, it should. Veteran actors
Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton both make appearances as the owner of the New Mexico diner and his cook respectively, and they both breathe life into what could have easily been cookie-cutter roles in lesser hands. Dutton in particular is always a welcome presence, with his seemingly effortless charm and sharp delivery. And who would have thought that Paul
Bettany would make a more-than-capable action star, given his past resume consisting mostly of more serious, dramatic work? Don’t get me wrong- he won’t be replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger as the heir to the 80’s Action Crown anytime soon, but the intensity he brings to his role as a gun-toting Angel with the guts to defy God Himself is impressive.
On the opposite end of the acting scale you have Lucas Black, whom I haven’t seen since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. But while he’s still just as wooden and lacking in charisma as ever, at least he’s still not playing 17 year-olds when he looks at least 40 (now he’s playing a 20 year-old!). Anyway, Drift King plays a mechanic who is basically “Joseph” to Adrianne Palicki’s “Mary” (Biblically speaking, of course), and you have to wonder why God chose this unintelligent, white trash couple to raise his kid this time around. Then again, the film acts like God didn’t want the Second Coming and is even trying to kill his own son, but if that was the case, why is Charlie even pregnant with him to begin with?
So, we have some good actors and some bad ones. Now let’s talk about everything else. Well, aside from the boring scenes where disposable people are talking non-stop about their unimportant pasts so reviewers like me can point and go “Wow! Look at all that character development!”, the pace of Legion is pretty fast and the action hard-hitting while actually remaining visible to the naked eye (no shaky cameras or fast edits here! Yay!). And, as stated earlier, the overall story driving Legion is rather dark (God’s mad and wants to kill us), which leads to some genuinely creepy scenes and imagery. All this gloom and doom is thankfully offset, however, by the rather sly sense of humor the movie possesses. The Apocalypse and laughter…always a good combo.
So, in the end, Legion is a good horror film; high on action, creep factor, and laughs, but low on gore (with one or two exceptions), brains, and genuine character building moments. It’s certainly worth checking out, but one has to lament it’s unmet potential. Perhaps a sequel could remedy that…