I’ll tell you something about me: I love angels. Not the pretty, fluffy angels you see printed on everything from pillows to decorative plates, but the kind of angels the Bible talks about: tough, dangerous creatures who serve as God’s army. Viewed through that particular lens, angels are the ultimate warriors and anyone who dares cross one is going to be in serious trouble, indeed. Really, the best a person could hope for is that the angel chooses to turn them into a pillar of salt rather than tearing them limb from limb.
Despite the relative coolness of angels when depicted this way, movies have largely ignored them. Sure, there are the Prophecy movies, but even they do not feature the kind of oversized action that such creatures would seem to demand. There’s an Australian film called Gabriel, starring the late Andy Whitfield, but I have not seen it and therefore can’t speak to its strengths or shortcomings. I promise to get to it eventually.
Which brings us to Legion. Does Legion do what other films have not? Are angels depicted as the warriors of Heaven? The answer is yes… and no. Surely the ingredients are there to do exactly what I hope for out of an angel movie, but the execution is not great and lets down as often as it pleases. Legion can’t really decide if it wants to be an action movie or a horror film and, frankly, I wish the filmmakers had fully committed to the action part of the equation because when Legion pushes the pedal to the metal it gets quite good.
The film begins with the descent of the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) to Earth. Within a few short minutes he has hacked off his wings, stolen a huge cache of serious firepower and fought it out with the cops, one of whom is suddenly possessed by a demonic power. Clearly some weird stuff is afoot and it gets plenty weirder by the end of the film’s 100-minute runtime.
With Michael introduced, the movie swings around 180 degrees and takes us out to a California diner/gas station way in the middle of the desert nowhere. The place is owned by a gruff character played by Dennis Quaid and his son (Lucas Black) works in the small, attached auto garage while a short-order cook (Charles S. Dutton) and a pregnant waitress (Adrianne Palicki) handle the diner portion of the business. They are joined by a single father traveling to LA to be with his kids (Tyrese Gibson) and a wealthy couple and their daughter caught stranded when their car conks out. That’s a lot of characters and because the movie doesn’t have a whole lot of time to introduce them all and still keep the action coming, pretty much every one of them is defined by a single characteristic and then set loose into the plot. Now that I think about it, even Michael is a little one-note, but he’s an angel and it’s not too far off the mark to depict them as singleminded and determined above all else.
Strange things begin to happen at the diner. First they are cut off from the outside world and second an odd old lady comes calling for a lunch of rare steak. When she grows fangs and starts running around on the ceiling after biting Dennis Quaid’s character, everyone knows something is seriously up.
When Michael arrives with his sack of guns, what was an isolated incident turns into a full-on siege as hordes of possessed people from all walks of life come streaming into the desert with the express purpose of killing everybody in that diner. It turns out that the end of the world is coming and there is only one person who can save the human race: the waitress’ unborn child. We are never told how this baby will make a difference or even when, which is a little annoying considering Michael has ample opportunity to explain and doesn’t. In fact he squanders several prime opportunities to win the trust of the various characters by simply telling them what’s what, which serves the purposes of the screenplay, but doesn’t do much for the story. When even the audience doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, that’s a sign that something is missing.
Much shooting and demonic activity ensues, and here’s where the disappointment comes in. You see, Michael is an angel. He’s almost the angel, as he was the first to bend the knee when God proclaimed humankind his favorite of all his creations. Angels have powers beyond the ken of mere mortals. Consequently, while it’s satisfying to see the kind of tweedy Bettany blazing away with automatic weapons and generally being a take-charge, no-prisoners sort of hero, eventually you (like me) will begin to wonder why he doesn’t break out some of his supernatural abilities and get the job done right. I’m all for the depiction of angels as God’s chosen warriors, but let us never forget that these are not humans we’re talking about.
The mostly repetitive nature of assaults by the possessed army outside doesn’t help matters much, as they don’t manifest too many abilities of their own besides preternatural strength and speed. Eventually the question of why they haven’t simply overrun the diner will come to your mind, and such will begin the slow unraveling of your enjoyment, because one question leads to another question inevitably until frustration kicks in.
I will say that Legion has an excellent climax that is almost worth the rest of the movie’s missteps, at least until you realize that the whole movie could have contained stuff like this and didn’t, at which point you may become annoyed all over again.
Everyone in the movie is good — Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton never turn in less than excellent performances in anything they do — and the movie is shot and directed well enough, so the problem really does lie with the script, which is too bad. There was the potential for something extraordinary here, but it doesn’t play out. Maybe we would have gotten more of the good stuff in the proposed sequels to the film, but they are likely never to be made.