Angels with machineguns? More like ex-angel with machineguns. As in, one lonely angel against the armies of God. Who ya got?
In this case, the fallen angel is one Michael (Paul Bettany, taking a break from more high-minded stuff to go genre), who has gone rogue in order to save mankind. As Michael relates, God has given up on us lowly humans, and has sent his angels down to Earth to take out the trash. It’s not an apocalypse, with rain, fire, brimstone and all that good stuff, but more of an extermination, and the angels are God’s exterminators. The first to go are the weak-minded among us, who are taken as vessels by the angels to do the dirty work. So basically you’re screwed if you watch the E! Channel for more than 10 minutes a day, or thinks “Two and a Half Men” is funny. Zing! But back to our movie.
A wingless Michael lands in L.A. in the midst of God’s housecleaning, promptly grabs two duffel bags fill with machineguns, and hightails it out into the California desert. Meanwhile, at the lonely, isolated diner of Paradise Falls, gimpy proprietor Bob (Dennis Quaid) and his son Jeep (Lucas Black) eke out a miserable existence, both financially and emotionally. Jeep only has eyes for Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), a waitress at the diner who is eight months pregnant, the father of the child having gone with the wind. It’s here at Paradise Falls that the final battle for mankind is about to take place, involving a select group of disparate people, including lost traveler Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), short order cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton), and couple Howard (Jon Tenney) and Sandra (Kate Walsh) and their rebellious daughter Audrey (Willa Holland).
Parts “The Prophecy” and parts “Terminator”, “Legion” is not what you would call overly original. Co-written and directed by former special effects man Scott Stewart, the film follows the plot beats of James Cameron’s two “Terminator” films so closely that I half expected to see Cameron’s name in the credits. Whereas Cameron concerned himself with time travel and unstoppable cyborgs, “Legion” goes the supernatural route, with possessed humans and a winged angel (Kevin Durand) armed with a tricked out mace. But unlike Cameron, Stewart doesn’t quite seem to have his bad guys all figured out. The legion of angel-possessed attackers, in particular, are incredibly easy to kill and their abilities vary greatly. Sometimes they are inhumanely fast and can defy gravity, and other times they act like hooligans that can be taken down with a single punch to the face. A perfect example: Doug Jones has a cameo as a possessed ice cream man who gets taken out a minute after showing up.
“Legion” starts off with a bang, but does lose a lot of steam in the middle part, where Stewart, a first-time feature film writer/director bogs the narrative down with so much pointless character pathos that each time one character gets his five minutes to recount something from his youth, it invariably leads to another character getting his five minutes. There are a lot of five minute moments during this part of the movie. It’s very rare that a horror movie (or an action movie) takes so much time out to “get to know” its characters, but let’s face it, there’s a reason why we don’t really need to know too much about these people. For one, they’re fodder, to be picked off as the film goes along; and secondly, they just don’t matter in the larger scheme of things. Besides, Stewart kills the characters off in such “blink and they’re dead” moments that you wonder why we even bothered to learn their names in the first place, much less where and how they grew up.
One of “Legion’s” main draw for me was seeing dramatic actor Paul Bettany try his hand at an action role. It’s no wonder Stewart quickly cast Bettany in his upcoming film, the horror-action movie “Priest”, because Bettany has just the right combination of leading man good looks, physicality, and acting chops that most actors in the genre simply lacks even at the pinnacle of their career. Bettany easily and effortlessly brings all of that to bear the first time out. The added benefit is that he looks just as credible taking a punch and going Rambo as he is delivering some of Stewart’s very earnest lines. Without a doubt, Bettany’s presence keeps “Legion” from being forgettable. Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that may eventually find a loyal following on DVD or cable, but I’m doubtful it will stick in the general consciousness long after it’s faded from theaters.
“Legion” has assembled a nice, balanced cast of newcomers and old vets to surround Bettany. Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton keep the kids honest, and the film is better for it. I would have liked to see more done with the various characters, especially Dutton and Quaid’s, but I suppose the story was always going to be about Adrianne Palicki’s Charlie and Lucas Black’s Jeep, with everyone else providing filler material. Although I like Black and Palicki (“Friday Night Lights”), they are mostly overshadowed by the explosions, flying bullet casings, and Paul Bettany keeping everyone alive. Stewart pulls a last-minute deus ex machina towards the end that I found to be unnecessary because it doesn’t work in the context of the story, and seems to undo a lot of what’s come before. Then again, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser moment, and I don’t fault Stewart too much for it.
I didn’t expect “Legion” to break the mould, and for the most part it did meet most of my expectations. Ironically, had the film been a direct-to-DVD release, “Legion” would have met and exceeded all expectations. As a theatrical release, though, it probably needed just a little bit more to hit a home run. Confining much of the action to the Paradise Falls diner greatly limits Stewart’s ability to deliver an “epic” feel, but I suppose a combination of a limited budget (at least by Hollywood standards) and this being Stewart’s first film, it was probably very wise to limit the scope while hinting at a much bigger picture offscreen. For a former special effects man, there’s surprisingly very little monster make-up in “Legion”. Mind you, not that there aren’t any, but I had expected that someone who has been making a living in the field for as long as Stewart has (he’s worked on everything from “Iron Man” to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films) to bring more in terms of monster action.
If the comments in some of our “Legion” threads are any indication, the film won’t find very many fans among those who read the Bible more than once a year. As a movie – a horror/action entry at that – “Legion” shows promise, but does falter in execution, especially in the middle section where the character pathos just seems to go on interminably. I would have liked to see more angel action, and have them be more fantastical in feel, but alas, that’s not to be. And as mentioned, Stewart’s film follows the plot beats of James Cameron’s two “Terminator” films closely, right down to the final scene, which leaves plenty of room for a sequel. I can picture the franchise continuing in direct-to-DVD form, but the box office numbers will tell the final tale.
Scott Stewart (director) / Peter Schink, Scott Stewart (screenplay)
CAST: Paul Bettany … Michael
Lucas Black … Jeep Hanson
Tyrese Gibson … Kyle Williams
Adrianne Palicki … Charlie
Charles S. Dutton … Percy Walker
Kevin Durand … Gabriel
Jon Tenney … Howard Anderson
Willa Holland … Audrey Anderson
Kate Walsh … Sandra Anderson
Dennis Quaid … Bob Hanson