Thursday, October 14, 2010

‘Tis The Season For Apocalyptic Violence: Legion Is More Mundane Than Thrilling!

The Good: Appropriately adrenaline-filled, Moments of story originality
The Bad: Exceptionally predictable, Loses all sense of creativity to violence and gore, Long boring periods
The Basics: A disappointingly obvious special effects-driven horror-action film, Legion gives viewers nothing truly original or inspired.

For those who do not follow my reviews, I go to see a lot of movies, especially since I discovered that the area I live in is a test market for films and other products. There is no movie I have known about the existence of, but not known anything about, for longer than Legion. Last summer, a massive eight-foot tall by ten foot wide cardboard standee display with an angel with an automatic firearm arrived at the local theater and it has stood there ever since. All it said was Legion Coming Soon. Over six months later, Legion arrived in the theaters and while I want to say it was worth the wait, the truth is, it was not. Congrats to the hype machine at Screen Gems for building the enthusiasm so effectively.

Unfortunately, the hype machine for Legion helps to undo itself in two fundamental ways. First, preview trailers for Legion accurately characterize it as a horror film and like many horror films these days, it is gory, violent and action-packed in ways that those looking for something genuinely entertaining are more likely to come away from simply disturbed. Second, Legion was preceded by a graphic novel (click here for that review!) and that was more about setting the stage than actually telling a story. The characters teased in that book are not even featured in the movie and as a result, those who prepare for the movie by reading the “cannon” tie-in are likely to feel like they did their homework for a test that was not given. Viewers will not miss anything by not having read the comic book predecessors (I’m bet, at the time, the comics would appear on the DVD as a “motion comic” bonus feature, but I was wrong). Unfortunately for those looking for something exciting and new, Legion offers little that is surprising or truly audacious and instead becomes a very typical horror-action flick.

As Christmas approaches at the Paradise Falls Diner in New Mexico, the diner sees a surprising influx of people. A car breaks down, customers come in and everything seems normal for the one-armed cook and pregnant waitress, save that there are actually customers for the day. Then, in hobbles an old lady, who comments on Charlie’s impending baby. When Howard tries to stand up for Charlie, he is assaulted and the old lady climbs up the wall until Bob shoots her with a shotgun he has handy. Attempting to get the wounded Howard to the nearest hospital, the Andersons and chefs encounter a cloud of flies and are forced to turn back for the diner. Freaked out and cut off from the world, those stranded at the diner are perplexed.

Things get worse when Michael shows up, armed to the teeth. Michael is happy to tell the group exactly what is going on. The diner is besieged by possessed humans who want to kill everyone and bring about the apocalypse. Michael, believing Charlie’s child is the next incarnation of Christ, swears to defend her and the child and save humanity, despite this going against the will of god. When it looks like Michael might succeed, god sends the angel Gabriel to finish the task of bringing about the end of humanity.

Like Constantine several years ago, Legion fits into a very tight niche of theologically-based action-adventure films. Unlike that film, which was almost a super hero film that was vaguely biblically derived, Legion is a straight-out horror film created by Peter Schink and Scott Stewart (who directed the film). And while the basic concept of a battle between angels and humanity may sound fresh and original, unfortunately Schink and Stewart keep it stiflingly within the conventions of the horror film conceits. In many ways, Legion is a haunted house film, just with a marginally more original concept and a protector character who might actually save the lives of those trapped there. The attempt to get to the hospital is essentially the slamming door which causes those at the diner to realize they are trapped at the “haunted house.”

The appearance of Michael and his arsenal is pretty cool, but soon the diner is surrounded and the resulting actions are more predictable than shocking. Ironically, part of this comes from the quality of the performance by Kate Walsh. Walsh plays Sandra, Howard’s wife, and she plays her as lost and twitchy after Howard is assaulted, which makes her character’s “surprise” actions less than surprising. The other generally decent performance comes from Dennis Quaid as the atheist, Bob (though Charles S. Dutton is quite convincing as a one-armed cook). Quaid seems beautifully disillusioned and sarcastic and he delivers his character’s quips well with a gruffness that is perfectly appropriate.

But beyond that, Legion is devoid of character development and anything close to decent acting. Paul Bettany is supposed to be aloof as the fallen angel Michael, but he comes across as stiff, just as Kevin Durand’s Gabriel is just bland. Both deliver so many of their lines as if they are just that, lines they are reading off a script. Bettany takes the brunt of the criticism for playing a lousy character as he is forced to deliver long monologues of exposition simply to explain what the swarms of mutants on the doorstep actually are.

And, for whatever momentary sense of philosophy or highbrow concept that might exist, Legion continues to degenerate into a series of predictable, violent encounters that have sufficiently realistic special effects. There are pretty cool mutants, though they are certainly enough to make one ask why angels make humans turn into demonically demented creatures when they possess them, and the effects department earns their pay both on those and the realism of Gabriel during the fight sequences. But the fights are so obviously choreographed and feel choreographed that viewers get the feeling they are watching something they have seen before . . . and a second –rate version of that prior work as well.

With movie tickets being expensive, one of the obvious questions is “should I go to the theater to see this?” For Legion, I would have thought the answer was a resounding “yes,” but it was surprisingly small in scope. The apocalypse is centered around a single location for the vast majority of the film (hence the comparison to haunted house films) and the effects are not so good that one is likely to feel cheated waiting to see it on DVD. If you feel like you need to see mindless horror action, you can now see Legion on DVD; there is nothing earth-shattering about this film.

For other science fiction or horror films, please check out my reviews of:
Shutter Island
Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters


For other film reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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