Legion shows a lot of promise in the first thirty minutes – showcasing some interesting shots, a set up that doesn’t need too much in the way of exposition, and a primer in what can be done to stretch a dollar on screen. This promise is broken by the rest of the film as it hobbles between action sequences and delivers unintentional humor right out of the mid-90s action handbook.
As God loses faith in mankind once again, the angel he entrusts with the task of setting off the Apocalypse (Paul Bettany) breaks rank in order to protect mankind’s only, last, greatest hope – a small child carried in the womb of a truck stop waitress (Adrianne Palicki).
I say unrepentantly that what was shown in the first section of film, while not being the greatest images or dialog ever thrown onto a screen, was genuinely entertaining. Paul Bettany proves his bad ass status early on, the camera work is stellar, and there are simple effects that work better than the most expensive CGI. We see Michael, the renegade Angel, fall to earth and prepare for the war. We then see the diner at Paradise Falls and get acquainted with the local faces. Bob (Dennis Quaid) who owns the place, his son Jeep (Lucas Black), a couple who’ve been stranded (John Tenney and Willa Holland), a young man stopping in to use a phone (Tyrese Gibson), the cook (Charles S. Dutton), and of course the incredibly pregnant waitress Charlie.
Their situations are told quickly and without any messy exposition to get in the way, but then it all just sort of continues. After a fantastically odd sequence with an elderly woman and neck removal, the story has that brief opportunity to get going, but it refuses to. Instead of creating an onslaught of action, the film never switches gears from trying to give deep lessons about life from the watercolored memories of people we barely know.
All that promise of action is squandered or brought back briefly to tease. Unfortunately, the minimalism that works so well in the beginning collapses half-way through as fight scenes become incomprehensible messes of bullets scattering and flashes on screen.
What worked well for the storyline in the beginning also collapses under the weight of how seriously the subject is taken. It seemed like director Scott Stewart wanted to have his absurd and eat it too by creating a ridiculous premise, carrying out on how over-the-top it is, but still wanting it rooted firmly in the ground.
On the acting front, there are some strong performances here. A lot of great ideas. Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton have some great moments, and Tyrese is given the only (on-purpose) laugh out loud moments of the flick. There’s also some incredible acting from Willa Holland who is put through an emotional ringer and expected to display the full range all at once. And she delivers. In fact, pretty much everyone delivers, including Lucas Black – who is one of maybe 3 people in Hollywood that can do a convincing southern accent and not sound like a complete moron.
The failing comes strictly from the writing. That failure (and specifically how serious the film takes itself) is what keeps it from being a From Dusk Til Dawn or Tremors. It’s also not a showcase of comeback talents. It may seem like a small thing, but when a villain (especially one played by as great an actor as Kevin Durand) spouts out some serious lines at our hero, and he can’t think of anything to say back, it leaves you laughing instead of cheering. You start to think, “They had months writing and all day on set – they couldn’t create a comeback for this guy?”
More so than that, Adrianne Palicki’s character, who should be a magnet for the audience, is easy to hate throughout the entire thing. She’s sweet, but she also smokes while pregnant, talks constantly about wanting to give the baby away, and doesn’t seem to do anything except popping out a savior. Without caring about her, I really couldn’t find myself invested in her protection which is what most of the film focuses on.
My complaints might seem petty, but they are indicative of the laziness of the entire flick. Past the halfway point, it seems like everyone involved just got tired or couldn’t handle posturing as if the concept was a good one in the first place. It’s ridiculous, and without painting the picture or characters with a real sense of humanity, the entire conceit of the film becomes stupid and insulting. In fact, if I can point out the major plot holes of the concept – God has sent a legion of angels to destroy a baby who is the hope of mankind’s salvation because God has lost faith in man’s ability to be saved. He has lost hope that they’ll be saves while knowing that there’s a baby that will save them, so he wants to kill it.
Seriously. This is what you have to deal with. But instead of having fun with that, we are dragged into faux-philosophy, soap opera stylings, and horrendous dialog.
Which is frustrating considering the first promise made by the film that it would be streamlined, bad ass, and not take itself all that seriously.
The Upside: Some very cool sequences, great acting, strong potential
The Downside: Action that makes no sense and a story that ends up making no sense with a final ten minutes that acts as a general middle finger to anyone watching
On the Side: Scott Stewart also directed Paul Bettany in the similarly desert/religious-themed Priest which comes out this year.