Why don’t more films choose God as the villain?
Directed by Scott Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Adrianne Palicki
Angels with machine guns: Doesn’t that sound bad-ass? It’s like tigers with switchblades. Or sharks with lasers. It’s awesomeness squared. And it’s pretty much the entire concept behind the action/horror/fantasy Legion. Unfortunately, this idea of diminishing returns makes for a wicked-cool poster, a mildly intriguing trailer and an incredibly mediocre film.
Classy Brit thespian Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code) lends some Royal Shakespeare Company weight to our poster image, the rebellious archangel Michael (a role previously tackled by no less than John Travolta). Seems that God Almighty is mighty pissed at mankind. Angry over Lord knows what—global warming? Abortion funding? Jon & Kate?—Yahweh decides to go Old Testament on our asses. Yup, the Holy Ghost has declared a Mulligan and is gonna wipe out Earth, humanity, the whole kit and kaboodle.
For whatever reason, Michael is not down with this ill-advised program of total genocide. Naturally, he heads to Earth, cuts off his wings and hijacks a shipment of high-caliber weaponry—all the better to fend off the Heavenly Host with. Unable to generate any ideas of its own beyond that whole “angels with Uzis” thing, Legion violates the Eighth Commandment and starts stealing from as many other films as it can get its grubby mitts on.
First of all, mankind may not be entirely doomed. If Michael can put on his best Michael-Biehn-in-Terminator face and protect a pregnant woman who’s scheduled to give birth to the Savior of Mankind, there may just be a way to fend off the End of Days. Armed to the teeth, Michael heads out to a truck-stop diner in the Mojave Desert (Galisteo, N.M., subbing for the ass end of nowhere). Trapped inside are a random assortment of people being besieged by what in any other movie would be aliens or zombies or monsters—but in this case is the Big Man Upstairs. At this point, it’s like somebody took the script to Tremors, crossed out the word “worms” and penciled in the word “cherubs.” Or took the script to Maximum Overdrive, crossed out the word “trucks” and penciled in the word “seraphim.” Or ... oh, you get the idea.
Our Whitman’s Sampler of humanity, meanwhile, includes pretty much everybody out of a bad Stephen King novel. There’s the crusty café owner (Dennis Quaid), his lovelorn teenage son (Lucas Black), a Bible-quoting cook (Charles S. Dutton), a pair of insufferable yuppies (Kate Walsh, Jon Tenney), their snotty daughter (Willa Holland) and a pistol-packing gangsta (Tyrese Gibson). Oh, and that knocked-up waitress / plot device (Adrianne Palicki from “Friday Night Lights”). Exactly the sort of people you would not want to ride out the Apocalypse with.
The film is pretty much an excuse for first-time writer-director Scott Stewart, a longtime visual effects supervisor, to show off his mad FX skills. There are a handful of cool, Book-of-Revelation-as-comic-book moments scattered throughout Legion, but most of the run time is eaten up with our cast of annoying stereotypes arguing, talking philosophy, spouting exposition and generally burping up cheesy dialogue while waiting for that horde of angels outside to attack.
Unfortunately for us viewers, the hot angel-on-angel action we’ve been waiting for doesn’t really materialize. Seems that angels don’t fight so much as possess people just like demons. As a result, we get a couple of mildly creepy, Exorcist-inspired moments in which ordinary citizens get taken over by the Heavenly Spirit and turn into head-spinning, wall-crawling zombies. Those few moments are already well-featured in the film’s TV commercials, so don’t expect any surprises. (Side note to God: Fire, flood, plague—those are effective ways of destroying the Earth. A cheap George Romero knockoff is not.)
After what seems like an eternity, God sends another archangel, Gabriel (Kevin Durand from “Lost”), to take down Michael. Finally, we get to see our hero cut loose with his guns. Of course, Gabriel has conveniently forgotten that angels are bulletproof, pretty much negating the film’s entire concept. The climactic showdown offers a few campy moments of scenery-chewing before collapsing under the poor internal structure of the script. Without bothering to explain much of anything (like why God wants the world destroyed, what’s the deal with the baby, and what the hell happened to the rest of the planet?), the film just ends. Surprisingly, it still has the temerity to set up what looks like a sequel. (Is it me, or does that sound like a sure sign of the Apocalypse?)