Directed by Scott Stewart
Screenplay by Peter Schink, Scott Stewart
Michael – Paul Bettany
Jeep Hanson – Lucas Black
Kyle Williams – Tyrese Gibson
Charlie – Adrianne Palicki
Percy – Charles S. Dutton
Gabriel – Kevin Durand
Bob Hanson – Dennis Quaid
Gladys Foster – Jeanette Miller
Ice Cream Man – Doug Jones
The Apocalypse on a Tight Budget
Good horror movies are rare. This year’s second scary movie (following last week’s Daybreakers) is certainly not one of them. As a nation we seem preoccupied at the moment with the apocalypse. This fad comes and goes often, but with 2012 (the end of the Mayan calendar and the date of the supposed prophesied apocalypse) looming on the horizon, studios are banking on our social anxieties—which are already high due to the recession, our political climate and the threat of terrorism. Legion doesn’t present the same kind of apocalypse depicted in the movie 2012’s trailers (which seem to show the whole world literally falling apart), but it is the End of Days nonetheless.
According to the script, God has lost faith in humanity, ostensibly because he grew “tired of all the BS.” Thus He orders the angels to exterminate mankind—just to switch it up a bit, since last time He went with a flood. The angel Michael (Paul Bettany) disagrees with God’s order and falls from heaven to save the human race. Michael chooses a tiny town called Paradise Falls (a clever but gauche touch of Dante), at the edge of the Mojave desert, in which to prove that humans are worth saving. Michael’s been keeping an eye on homely Jeep (Lucas Black) and pregnant, single Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) for years, and has pegged them as proof that humans are worth saving. In particular, Charlie’s unborn child is lined up to be the savior—although this is never quite explained. Bad fortune brings a number of strangers to the diner at which the two work and live, and there the battle plays out.
In Legion, God is neither infallible nor merciful. The angels are not lovely and ethereal—no halos for these soldiers. Instead they are dark, cruel minions who inhabit humans to ensure the End of Days. This might’ve been an effective take on the Biblical apocalypse if it weren’t for the ridiculous special effects. Before the battle gets underway, a very old woman with a walker comes into the diner, all smiles and sweetness. Unfortunately, the trailers already revealed that she’s evil, and sloppy filmmaking creates such ominous foreshadowing (elongated shadows, stalker view—from behind rather than ahead) that the audience simply lies in wait for her to do something nutty, which of course she does. In The Exorcist III, an elderly woman in a mental hospital (who happens to be possessed) crawls on the ceiling behind the characters’ heads, and it’s one of the most unsettling moments in the film. Legion’s effects budget evidently didn’t cover anything that looks realistic, and as such the audience guffawed at a moment that should have been disturbing. When the special effects of a movie made twenty years ago trump one made last year, there’s a problem. Shortly thereafter, an ice cream truck appears, cheerily amplifying that song so familiar to kids in the summertime. The ice cream man, played by Doug Jones, whose acting is most recognizable by his magnificently exacted bodily movements (he was Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies as well the Silver Surfer in the eponymous movie) is supremely underutilized when the terrible CGI takes over.
The film’s script is fairly run of the mill. It’s funny at times, but leaves characters completely undeveloped—a technique best used in movies like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre—the difference being that at least Chain Saw’s rather deplorable, one-dimensional characters had some really horrifying death scenes. Most of the murders in Legion are not typical of the horror genre, which mostly relies on hand-to-hand combat: knives, chainsaws, and other weapons. Guns and explosions are plentiful in Legion, which nearly crosses into the action realm. Though it has a dearth of good computer imagery, the makeup effects and gore are well done. The movie’s rated R for violence and language, and rightfully so, but a curious aspect of the film is that a few of the “good” characters smoke cigarettes, one while pregnant. The MPAA decided in 2007 that any amount of smoking in a movie automatically raises its rating, so it’s interesting to see a focus on cigarettes in a culture that’s becoming less tolerant of the habit.
Legion is an effects-laden and silly movie that tells yet another rendition of the apocalypse in which the Christian God smites mankind for our numerous sins. Whether or not you believe the apocalypse is upon us, this is an especially farfetched version of events, entertaining but neither new nor particularly well told; loose ends and underdeveloped characters abound. Paul Bettany is a pleasure to watch in any medium, and Adrianne Palicki may be headed for a healthy film career (her role in TV’s “Friday Night Lights” showed she is in fact quite talented). However, the movie isn’t worth seeing in theaters unless you want to spend an evening chuckling and cringing.