Posts Tagged ‘flick’

MOVIE REVIEW: Legion

Posted: February 3, 2010 in Info News
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Legion joins the ranks of Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, Feast, Ghosts of Mars, and a host of other classic (and obscure) genre titles in the subcategory of “siege movies”—you know, the ones where a ragtag group of strangers are thrown together in a remote location (jungles and forests are usually preferred for their ability to hide deadly creepie-crawlies), forced to battle a powerful adversary (that may or may not have a host of minions to do its bidding) bent on their total extermination.

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The ragtag group of strangers, in this case, are trapped in a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of the desert while an “apocalypse” rages outside. The usual suspects are all accounted for: a bickering couple (Kate Walsh of Private Practice and Jon Tenney of The Closer) and their disaffected teenage daughter (Willa Holland), the world-weary middle-aged man (Dennis Quaid, playing the diner’s owner), the wise black man (Charles S. Dutton as the cook), the man with a past (Tyrese Gibson), the single mom (Adrienne Palicki, playing a disillusioned diner waitress heavy with child) and the earnest young man who loves her (Lucas Black). Into the middle of this microcosm of society charges a mysterious stranger (The Da Vinci Code’s Paul Bettany) who seems to be the only character with an inkling of what’s going on, so he starts barking orders like “Don’t open that door or we’re all dead!”

If I’m not really taking the time to parse these characters—telling you a bit of their background, say, or mentioning one character tic or another—that’s because the director Scott Stewart doesn’t spend much time sketching them in either. For instance, he doesn’t seem to be much aware of the fact that Paul Bettany isn’t a cozy fit as an action hero: I can’t really imagine English actors filling the shoes of Willis or Schwarzenegger—no matter how buff they’ve become—because the concept of heroes who can shoot automatic weapons with both hands is just too American. He’s also oblivious to the fact that Quaid’s comic asides only make him appear superior to the material.

No, Stewart is much more interested in the high concept that propels Legion’s plot: As the trailer has no doubt told you, God has lost His faith in mankind, so He’s sent his angels to wipe His greatest creation off the face of the earth. Bettany plays the archangel Michael, who has broken from the ranks of the angelic battalion and decided to defend mankind by protecting an unborn child that represents humanity’s last hope—which, as it happens, is being carried by Palicki’s hardened waitress. Of course, such a powerful hero needs an equally powerful foe; in this case, it’s fellow archangel Gabriel, played by Kevin Durand (who you may remember from his short but effective turn as the mercenary who murders the daughter of Michael Emerson’s Ben in Lost).

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The script, co-written by Stewart with Peter Schink, is full of the nervous energy that only true film nerds possess. It revels, for instance, in angel mythology: How Michael was the first angel in all of heaven to bow down before humankind, how Gabriel is traditionally portrayed as God’s hatchet man, how the hair-raising sound of a herald announces the arrival of a member of the upper echelon of angels. There are also numerous homages to other movies, most notably James Cameron’s Terminator. (Though if you squint hard enough, you may spot a tribute to The Seventh Sign, the B-level apocalyptic thriller starring Demi Moore.)

And why shouldn’t Legion proudly wear its geek origins proudly? It is Stewart’s directorial debut, after serving on the visual effects team that worked on such hits as Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman Returns, and Night at the Museum. Meanwhile, this is only Schink’s second screenplay, having served as editor on films such as Detroit Rock City and the Pamela Anderson female mercenary movie Barb Wire.

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In case the exhaustive rundown of both director and writer’s résumés above haven’t hinted at Legion’s basic problem, then let me spell it out for you: The director is far too preoccupied with what will look cool on screen, and his co-writer has too little experience with movies that were actually good, to devise a plot that is propelled by recognizable human motivation. The script, for instance, never explains why Michael decides to literally clip his wings, when his showdown with Gabriel shows that an angel’s wings—here chillingly colored black instead of the traditional white, as if they were dipped in tar—are strong enough to repel bullets and sharp enough to dismember opponents who stand too close. If you’re the lone defector against an army with formidable capabilities, wouldn’t you want to keep every advantage you can?

It is also established early on that angels can use human bodies as their earthly vessels. But once again, the script decides to gloss over the idea that these angels could have possessed anybody in the diner to do their work from the inside. Were they deemed untouchable by their proximity to their target? If so, why? Instead, we get a ceaseless parade of the unlikely possessed. I admit, it was cool to see a kindly old lady skittering like a lunatic bug across the diner’s ceiling. But when an ice cream truck driver charges at the diner like a nightmarish daddy longlegs, there is less novelty. By the time the angels decide to recruit a little girl in a sundress and a boy who eerily looks like the youngest child in Eight is Enough to do their murderous bidding, what was cool has become redundant.

Many other visual flourishes—a victim crucified upside down festering with deadly boils, characters dispatched in ways that don’t reverberate with their backstories—are simply shoehorned into the movie for their coolness factor. But no flourish pays off, nothing is explained, nothing satisfies. Come to think of it, the central conceit—angels are unleashed upon the earth to exterminate an unborn child—doesn’t hold much weight once you apply the spiritual hooey that the filmmakers insist on foisting upon the viewer. As Palicki’s repetitive voice-over explains, God has gotten fed up with “the bulls**t”…so why would He bother creating an unborn child that will supposedly lead humanity out of its dark age?

Legion’s one claim to originality is also its downfall: It is never more amateurish than when it tries to give its guns-blazing sensibility a spiritual spin. Personally, I don’t believe God hates us. I just think He’d be pissed to be cast as the villain in a movie whose filmmakers worship James Cameron.

Images from Columbia Pictures.

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