Movie Review: Legion
By Matthew Huntley
February 4, 2010
Just last week I reviewed a movie called The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic thriller about a prophet entrusted to protect one of mankind's most sacred texts. I criticized the movie for playing too much tug of war between its action and story, and how both suffered as a result. I wrote, "You either spend more time on the action or story, or both."
Now, in the light of Legion, I can see I was too hard on Eli, because Legion exemplifies what can happen (and go wrong) when a movie spends too much time on action and not enough on story. At least Eli tried to find a balance.
To its defense, when the action in Legion is good, it's great. The filmmakers have devoted most of their energy and budget to the violence, gore and special effects, all of which shine in an otherwise frivolous mess. I wish I could confidently explain the plot to you, but that proves difficult when the movie lacks some important explanations of its own.
What I do know is the story opens on December 23rd and an angel named Michael (Paul Bettany) comes down to Earth and arrives in Los Angeles (on one of those dark and stormy night no less). He raids a store for some hefty ammunition, steals a cop car and heads toward Paradise Falls, a remote desert town between L.A. and Vegas. Here, a 20-something kid named Jeep (Lucas Black) helps his father (Dennis Quaid) run a mechanics shop and diner. Lately, Jeep has been having nightmares involving Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), a pregnant waitress who has plans to give her baby up for adoption. Little does she know her unborn child is the center of a war between Michael and a legion of angels called upon to punish mankind, apparently because God resents humans and is "tired of all the bullsh*t."
In the movie's most viscerally effective scene, a demonized old lady climbs the ceiling and attempts to kill Charlie and her baby. It's a good thing some of the other diner folk, including a cook (Charles S. Dutton), a single man passing through town (Tyrese Gibson) and a rebellious teenager (Willa Holland), carry the proper weaponry to kill her off. However, they'll need a lot more help if they expect to fend off a swarm of flies and an army of seemingly normal humans who stretch, elongate and rip people's flesh apart. These are supposedly the angels sent by God to punish man - they've inhabited human bodies and are causing them to behave like zombies. The only thing Michael and the diner people have to do is shoot them. Jeez, you'd think angels would be more difficult to kill.
Aside from us knowing that Charlie is due to give birth around Christmas, the movie makes almost no attempt to explain why her baby, of all the thousands of babies being born around the world on the exact same day, is so special. Did God spin his globe, cover his eyes and point? Why should the apocalypse begin in this dusty old town, conveniently called Paradise Falls? And why don't the angels just kill all the humans themselves? Why inhabit the bodies of incompetent mortals?
I had many other questions after the screening, like how was the angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) able to walk away unscathed after his fight with Michael in the diner? Didn't his weapon go through both of them? And did Michael strike a deal with God? Is that what he meant by "You gave him what he asked for; I gave him what he needed"? These are all questions I'm sure co-writer and director Scott Stewart could answer in person, but he doesn't do a very good job of answering them in the movie. The story is confusing and, frankly, unsatisfying. It's so incoherent and silly that it made me angry. The only things that make Legion relatively watchable are its action, special effects and gore, but these only come in spurts.
I'd like to say the actors do what they can, but they really don't. Each is given a long, drawn out monologue and their words are laughable. Why would good actors like Bettany, Quaid and Black agree to star in such rubbish? They're better than this.
I was on the fence about recommending The Book of Eli and I wish I could be on the fence about recommending Legion, but its bads outweigh its goods by too great a margin. If you must, and I mean must, see a movie currently in theaters that mixes action, religion and the apocalypse, Eli is the one to see over Legion. Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.