Legion

Cast:
Paul Bettany as Michael
Lucas Black as Jeep Hanson
Tyrese Gibson as Kyle Williams
Adrianne Palicki as Charlie
Charles S. Dutton as Percy Walker
Kevin Durand as Gabriel
Jon Tenney as Howard Anderson
Willa Holland as Audrey Anderson
Kate Walsh as Sandra Anderson
Dennis Quaid as Bob Hanson
Jeanette Miller as Gladys Foster
Cameron Harlow as Minivan Boy
Doug Jones as Ice Cream Man
Josh Stamberg as Burton
Yancey Arias as Estevez

Directed by Scott Stewart

Story:
In a diner in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the locals are joined by a group of stranded passers-by, caught in the middle of the Apocalypse as they’re surrounded by the demonic once-human army of a vengeful God trying to kill the baby of a young mother (Adrianne Palicki) who works there as a waitress. Aiding them against the insurmountable odds is a fallen angel named Michael (Paul Bettany) who has given up his wings for heavy machine guns.

Analysis:
For many reasons, it’s far too easy to immediately be dismissive of the directorial debut by visual FX guy Scott Stewart, who also co-wrote the screenplay. On the surface, it’s another movie geared merely to the “Left 4 Dead” video game enthusiasts and being sold as a genre-based action franchise ala the “Resident Evil” series.

Instead, it’s an Apocalyptic thriller with a high concept biblical premise revolving around the idea that God has gotten tired of mankind’s “bullsh*t” and has decided to wipe us off the face of the earth, a plan that might be deterred by the unborn baby of a young pregnant mother working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner in the desert. His top angel Michael (played by Paul Bettany) turns down the mission to kill the baby and decides to switch sides and help mankind.

What might sound like a somewhat ludicrous premise is introduced in an opening scene so bad one might immediately expect the worst for the movie. Bettany’s Michael falls to earth, saws off his own wings and arms himself with the type of heavy ordinance you might expect in a “Rambo” movie – someone even makes that joke later in the movie. From this scene, you might think you’re in store for another D-level action movie that relies solely on violence and gore to get by, and it doesn’t help matters when we’re first introduced to the denizens of a diner in the middle of nowhere, who at first seem to be the type of horror stereotypes that are merely fodder to be picked off one at a time. They quickly learn that the world around them has gone crazy after being attacked by a possessed granny–a scene that’s even funnier than in the commercial–and soon, they’re surrounded by former humans who have been sent to kill the unborn baby of the diner’s waitress.

Being that Stewart comes from the world of FX, on might immediately expect “Legion” to be a visual-heavy movie that’s all style and no substance, rife with the type of bad writing and acting we normally must endure; that’s not the case at all. Stewart actually makes an extra effort to develop the characters beyond their stereotypes with a motley crew of movie and TV vets, only a few of whom you might expect to see in a movie like this.

Paul Bettany makes for a strong lead as the fallen angel Michael, possibly playing it a little to serious and straight, but he also easily slips into the ensemble established after his opening scene. Dennis Quaid’s performance isn’t quite as good, because he doesn’t seem to be giving as much to his role as the diner owner than the rest of the cast. He still brings more to the role than a weaker actor might have done. Having two veterans from the “Fast and Furious” franchise in Lucas Black and Tyrese Gibson might not sound promising, and while they’re performances aren’t very consistent, they both have strong dramatic moments. In fact, Black’s best scenes are with Quaid in establishing the relationship between father and son. On top of that, Charles Dutton gives a terrific performance as the diner’s cook, one that will probably be lost on the movie’s target audience.

Sadly, the much-needed depth brought to the characters in this simple story by the quality cast and the quieter dramatic moments isn’t going to do much for anyone sold on the movie merely expecting lots of creatures and action. As much as “Legion” looks great, filled with all sorts of interesting visual ideas, not all of them fully work – the possessed humans themselves are kind of lame, which doesn’t help matters since for many, they’re the biggest selling point.

Likewise, anyone overly cynical or judgmental about religion probably won’t give the movie much of a chance, because it relies heavily on the same spiritual beliefs as “The Book of Eli”–heck, this could even be a prequel to “Eli”–but unlike that movie, it never feels like it’s pandering, since the biblical tone is warranted, offering food for thought to those unable to understand why some people get so zealous about faith and religion.

Certainly some suspension of disbelief is necessary to insure the mildly absurd moments don’t completely kill one’s enjoyment. Let’s face it, this is a movie featuring an angel carrying machine guns, so how much realism is anyone really expecting? Eventually the movie culminates in the ubiquitous fight between the fallen angel Michael and his former peer Gabriel, played by Kevin Durant, which is decent enough, but the action isn’t what sets the movie apart, it’s the fact that it doesn’t have to rely on the action to keep one interested in the story.

The Bottom Line:
While it’s hard to give the movie a whole-hearted recommendation, “Legion” is better than it should have been and to Stewart’s credit, it rises above similar genre fare. Those looking for a movie filled to the brim with action and gory creature kills might not be patient enough to appreciate Stewart’s attempts to NOT make “Legion” into just another high concept video game existing merely to set up a franchise. Still, it’s not even remotely surprising the studio has already given Stewart another higher profile directing gig.

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