Legion, end-times thriller, rated R, Regal Stadium 14, 1.5 chiles Say a little prayer for the remaining post-holiday movie season, because if it contains one more film that remotely resembles the silly, ripped-from-the-scripture bloodbath called Legion (filmed outside Galisteo, New Mexico), it may be a sign that cinematic end times are truly upon us.
This isn’t to say that film geeks should immediately duct-tape their windows, hoard cases of Mountain Dew, bulk up their Netflix queues, and cancel their Valentine’s Day dinner-and-aflick plans. Great moviemaking will most likely continue, and Legion— for all of its meandering dialogue, choppy editing, throwaway characters, and heavy reliance on plot mechanisms and action set pieces borrowed from much better films— is not without a few memorable moments. However, if humanity has any faith in Hollywood’s ability to estimate the intelligence of its ticket-buying disciples, watching this film tests that faith to the outer limits of the universe— or, in this case, to the gates of a shoddily rendered CGI heaven.
Director/co-screenwriter Scott Stewart— the bulk of whose cinematic experience rests in the visual-effects realm— attempts to present a thrilling mix of horror, action, and biblical prophecy, all bound together by his proven ability (in his work for such
films as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Red Cliff, and Iron Man) to please the eye. Instead, he gives audiences a crudely edited, poorly scripted morality play on faith, abortion, and self-sacrifice… with bullets— lots of them.
An angel named Michael (played by Paul Bettany, who sowed his creepy-religious-guy oats as Silas, the albino, self-flogging Opus Dei monk in The Da Vinci Code) descends from heaven, hacks off his own wings, and loads up on guns, ammo, and rocket-propelled grenades— and the wheels of apocalyptic chaos are set in motion. Michael’s mission: to save an unborn child. Michael must, in defiance of a God who has given up on those created in his own image, forsake God’s orders to exterminate humankind — and try to save us instead.
Miles away, at a dusty Nevada gas station and diner called Paradise Falls, what appears to be the cast of a Tremors franchise reboot is wondering why the radios, phones, and televisions aren’t working. When a possessed senior citizen threatens to kill the unborn baby of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) — a waitress who has considered terminating her pregnancy (and still smokes cigarettes)— the diners become the dined-on. And then all hell— well, heaven, actually— breaks loose.
Michael arrives at the diner, tells everyone they’re just lambs for the slaughter, and then passes out bullets and biblical prophecy like he’s operating an Armageddonpreparedness drive-through window. Paradise Falls’ customers and staff consist of the usual suspects found in the increasingly formulaic, desert-set, good-guys-vs.-bad-guys end-times genre: Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid), the bitter, beer-swilling diner owner whose back story of a failed marriage and limited business acumen means that he’ll be good for some enlightenment and fulfilled revenge fantasies down the road; Jeep Hanson, Bob’s son (played by Sling Blade’s Lucas Black, all grown-up and hunky now, but retaining his syrupy, infectious southern drawl), the brooding country boy/grease monkey who wants the girl— even if she’s reluctantly carrying a stranger’s baby; Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), the requisite SUV-driving, gun-toting character with a shady past who is just trying to preserve a long-distance relationship with his son; Percy (Charles S. Dutton), the short-order cook and Bob’s business partner, who can recite verse and embodies the religiously devout among the group; and a bickering yuppie couple (KateWalsh and Jon Tenney) who drag their bratty, scantily clad teenage daughter (Willa Holland) along a literal and figurative highway of shattered dreams.
Some in this spark-free ensemble cast get their druthers, while others step up to the plate to defend the unborn baby (a new messiah or perhaps the return of J.C.— it’s never made clear) from what’s about to come: zombie-like angels, descended from heaven on God’s orders and inhabiting the bodies of mortals, fixin’ to wipe out the human race. They love to chew on necks and crawl on ceilings, but they’re also easier to kill than cockroaches.
Leading the charge from heaven is the angel Gabriel, Michael’s brother, played devilishly well by Kevin Durand ( Lost, Smokin’ Aces). Costumed like a feathered S&M Batman with a touch of Spartacusstyle sex appeal, Gabriel is God’s little pet, following his orders with unwavering allegiance. Will Gabriel, like Michael, learn to love us sad humans unconditionally— and forgive us our sins?
Stewart’s script (co-written with Peter Schink) makes a mess of biblical prophecy, but when you’re borrowing so heavily from the Terminator franchise, The Mist, Tremors, The Exorcist, 28 Days Later, and From Dusk Till Dawn, the Good Book is bound to get lost in the mix.
Legion is often fun to look at, always uncomfortable to listen to — flesh-eating angels on the horizon? Cue the death metal, spooky operatic choruses, and cheesy dialogue — and ultimately fails to live up to the promise of its trailer. It may be passable for wingnut survivalists and special-effects enthusiasts who want to see exploding torsos and enough gunfire to make Pulp Fiction look tame by comparison. But if you’re looking for a genuine cinematic savior who can deliver the whole enchilada, you’re better off paying tithes at the box office to another J.C.— James Cameron, that is.
Stop! Or my angel will shoot: Paul Bettany and Adrianne Palicki