CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: LEGION (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated inside a greasy spoon diner. They are looking over their menus. Around them sit a few other patrons, a waitress taking an order, a cook behind a greasy grill, and the owner fiddling with the TV set mounted on the wall. An OLD LADY sitting next to them initiates a conversation.)
OLD LADY: I just love the food here.
LS: That’s nice. (under his breath) You old hag.
MA: Hey, she’s just a sweet old lady. (Smiles at old lady). What’s your favorite item on the menu, M’am?
OLD LADY: Raw steak with maggots.
(MA grimaces, but LS nods his head, drooling in approval.)
OLD LADY (to LS): So, tell me, how far are you along?
LS: Excuse me?
OLD LADY: How many months have you been carrying your baby?
LS: Get some glasses, you old bat! I’m not pregnant! I’m a man!
OLD LADY: Your baby’s going to burn!!! (OLD LADY suddenly bares razor-sharp fangs and hisses at them).
LS (Pulls out flame thrower and blasts OLD MONSTER LADY, engulfing her in flames): No. You are.
(Looks around at stunned customers) Sorry.
DINER OWNER: Don’t worry about it. This sort of thing happens here all the time. Last week we had a midget who sprouted a second head.
MA: What’s up with that?
OWNER: Don’t know, but he left twice the tip. Okay, people, everything’s fine now. We’ll put out the fire. In the meantime, enjoy the ambiance. (OWNER goes back to pounding on the television, trying to get reception)
LS: Let’s get this review started. Why don’t you start things off while I toast us some marshmallows before they put out the fire? (Begins toasting marshmallows over to the charred body of the OLD LADY).
MA: Sure thing. Today we’re reviewing LEGION (2010), a movie that attempts to answer the question, what would happen if God got sick of his creation and sent his angels to destroy us?
The story takes place for the most part inside a diner called Paradise Falls in an out-of- the way desert location somewhere south of Los Angeles. The diner is owned by Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid), and he employs his son Jeep (Lucas Black), a young waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), and a chef, Percy Walker (Charles S. Dutton). There are a few customers inside the diner on this particular day, a married couple with their rebellious teenage daughter who are waiting for their car to get repaired, and a mysterious man, Kyle Williams (Tyrese Gibson), on his way to LA for a court date, presumably to fight for the custody of his kid (based on a phone call he makes in Hanson’s office).
Charlie is eight months pregnant, and Jeep, though he’s not the father, has pledged to stand by her and her baby. He’s intimated that he’d marry her, but Charlie hasn’t acted on his offer, instead showing continued interest in other men, much to Bob’s dismay, who’s worried about the decisions his adult son Jeep is making.
The characters here are all fleshed out rather nicely and things are set up neatly for what’s to come. What’s to come begins in Los Angeles, as we witness the arrival of an angel, Michael (Paul Bettany), in a scene that reminded me of all those arrival scenes from the TERMINATOR movies.
LS: Definitely a TERMINATOR vibe with that arrival scene. Although, he goes the extra mile to become human, by cutting off his wings. For some reason, I thought that would be a lot more difficult and messy than it actually is.
MA: At the diner, things grow unsettled when the TV suddenly flashes the Emergency Broadcast System logo, just before it loses its signal, along with the radio and phones, including cell phones.
An old lady arrives at the diner, and after shocking Charlie by telling her that her baby is going to burn, she sprouts fangs and leaps onto the ceiling.
LS: Hey, just like the lady here!
MA: As things grow weirder when a horde of flying insects descend upon the diner, Michael arrives in time to explain to everyone that God is miffed at the world, and he has sent his angels to earth to punish mankind. It seems, God has allowed his angels to possess the bodies of humans, and it is these possessed humans who are attacking mankind, a la zombies.
LS: They sure don’t act like any angels I know of. Aren’t demons the ones who possess humans?
MA: As far as I know, that’s the way it’s always worked. Angels have been the good guys. But in this movie, not so much.
Why are the angels here? Well, their goal is to kill Charlie’s baby. If Charlie’s baby survives, so does humankind, and thus it becomes Michael’s job to protect the baby. What follows is just that, a battle between Michael and the diner’s occupants vs. the possessed humans, as these angel zombies attempt to kill the baby. And just when you thought that maybe the human folks had an edge with the super angel Michael on their side, his counterpart, the angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) shows up to finish the job, and dispose of both Michael and the baby.
I gotta tell you, I really enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. I thought the horror scenes early on worked really well, but when the film shifted from a story about a small group of people trapped in a diner fighting for their survival against some unknown horrific threat, to a story about evil angels, it lost it for me. It became silly, hokey, and way too simplistic. In short, though I really liked the first part, the second part of LEGION completely falls apart.
(Another OLD LADY enters the diner from the restroom).
OLD LADY #2: Where’s my sister? I was meeting her here for lunch!
MA: Uh oh.
LS: Here, have a toasted marshmallow while you wait. (Hands toasted marshmallow on a stick to OLD LADY #2).
OLD LADY #2 (sniffs marshmallow): This smells like— did you turn my sister into a marshmallow?
MA: Not quite.
OLD LADY #2: I’ll fix you two!
(She sprouts long fangs and leaps onto ceiling before stopping dead in her tracks. She suddenly has a heart attack, groans, and falls to the floor, dead.)
LS (To deceased old lady): Not quite the spring chicken you thought you were, are you?
DINER OWNER: It’s alright, folks. Let me get a dust pan and broom.
MA: Better make it an extra large dust pan and broom.
(Someone enters the diner and a bell rings above the door. LS claps.)
MA: I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. Every time someone comes in, you clap. What’s up with that?
LS: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!
MA: I never would have pegged you as a fan of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
(LS starts singing “Buffalo Gal Won’t You Come Out Tonight”)
MA: Anyway, back to LEGION.
In the beginning, this movie rocked. I liked the opening sequences involving the angel Michael. The scene where he has to stitch the wounds on his back where his wings used to be induced a few grimaces, and the shoot-out with the police officers upon his arrival I thought was exciting.
LS: I think you just like him because his name is Michael!
I dunno how well the whole “cutting off wings” thing works. He cuts his wings off pretty easily, considering they’re a part of him. And those wounds he stitches up seem like minor cuts instead of the gashes they should be. And how is he able to stitch himself up so well? It’s not like it’s easy to reach your own back!
And the whole point of cutting off his wings seems to be so he can be human like us. But he still seems to have super strength, he’s amazingly accurate with guns, and when he drives by buildings, their power shuts off. Doesn’t sound like a normal human to me.
MA: The scenes early on in the diner were well-crafted, and I liked all of the characters involved here. The acting performances were all excellent. I enjoyed the two young leads very much. Adrianne Palicki as Charlie delivered one of the best performances in the movie, and Lucas Black as Jeep, though not as dynamic as Palicki, still made for a very believable, likeable character.
LS: There are a LOT of TV actors in this movies. Palicki, some people might recognize as the bad girl Tyra from the excellent show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. And even Lucas Black was in one of my favorite shows – as a kid he starred as Caleb in the very cool, but short-lived series AMERICAN GOTHIC (1995-1996).
MA: I remember that show, and I remember Lucas Black in it as well. That was a good show. It’s too bad it never caught on.
LS: And the mother of the teen-age girl is Kate Walsh, another TV star from GREY’S ANATOMY and PRIVATE PRACTICE.
As for Lucas Black’s character – I found him really annoying. His passive character might have been realistic (not everyone’s a hero), but I found it very hard to believe his importance later on in the story. I just didn’t like him.
MA: The character of Jeep becomes important because he’s a caring person, and he’s been there to take care of both Charlie, and his dad Bob, and that’s what the angel Michael has been looking for in the human race. Like I said, it becomes very hokey.
But back to the cast. I sometimes poke fun at Dennis Quaid, because he makes so many movies, and a lot of them are just OK, and often he’s just OK, but I thought this was one of his better performances that I’ve seen in recent years. Quaid is really good in this movie, as is Charles S. Dutton as the cook, Percy Walker.
LS: Charles S. Dutton is another actor from TV. He used to have his own show back in the early days of FOX, called ROC. But he’s also been in lots of genre movies since, including ALIEN 3 (1992), MIMIC (1997), and GOTHIKA (2003).
As for Quaid, he does make a lot of movies: some of them are good, and some of them ain’t so good. One of my favorite genre flicks he starred in was ENEMY MINE, way back in 1985! How many of you remember that one?
MA: But my favorite performer in this one was Tyrese Gibson as Kyle Williams. His performance was the strongest by far, and I wish his character had been the lead in the story. He was better than just a supporting player.
LS: Yeah, I thought Gibson was good, too. And he would have made for a strong lead actor. His character isn’t given enough to do here, and I wanted to know more about him. You might have seen Gibson in the TRANSFORMERS movies and the recent remake of DEATH RACE (2008).
MA: The two angels, Michael and Gabriel, were rather blah characters, and there wasn’t much actors Paul Bettany or Kevin Durand could do to make them more interesting.
LS: I actually disagree about this, but more on that later.
MA: The scary stuff early on also really worked for me. The old lady sequence was very intense and much better than the way it came off in the trailer, which made me laugh. I also liked the Ice Cream Man and the Minivan boy.
LS: Y’know, I would have found the old lady sequence a lot more effective if I hadn’t seen it 20 times already in the trailer! This is definitely one of those movies where the trailer gives away THE ENTIRE PLOT. And the old lady sequence is almost shown in its entirety, which sucks for poor Jeanette Miller who does a great job with the old lady/demon character, named Gladys.
MA: I don’t know, the language she used, which was not included in the trailer for obvious reasons, made the scene better in the movie, and I liked it, even though I had seen it many times in the trailer.
LS: As for the Ice Cream Man (another character who we saw too much in the trailer), how many people recognized him as Doug Jones, the go-to guy for people who need an actor to play monsters? Jones’s resume is pretty impressive. He’s done everything from play one of the “Gentlemen” in the classic silent episode of the TV show BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1999), to the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) to Abe Sapien from the HELLBOY movies, to the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007).
As for the Minivan Boy (Cameron Harlow, with a cool devil voice by Django Marsh), I thought he was the best of the three you mentioned, but then I’ve always dug evil/monster children.
(MONSTER BOY taps LS on the shoulder.)
MONSTER BOY (with deep voice): Have you seen my mommy?
LS: How the hell is a little kid able to tap me on the shoulder?
(LS and MA realize the kid is levitating)
LS: Your mommy wasn’t a little old lady, was she?
MONSTER BOY: No.
MONSTER BOY: I want to play with the baby. (To LS) You look like a baby.
LS (rolls eyes): What is it with this diner? First someone thinks I’m pregnant. Now this kid thinks I’m a baby. I’m a grown man, kid. How many babies you see with whiskers?
MA: You must have one of those faces.
LS: Hey, kid, here’s a quarter. Go run in the street and see if you can bounce if off one of those Mack trucks driving by.
MONSTER BOY: Gee, thanks, Mister! (Takes quarter and leaves).
MA: Where were we? Oh yes. So where does LEGION go wrong? Pretty much with its entire angel plot. Bodies possessed by angels? It’s kinda stupid when you think about it. If God really wanted to destroy humankind, why send angels in the bodies of humans to do it? Seems like an excuse for a horror/fantasy/action movie plot to me!
LS: And why now? What’s so special that God would want to destroy the earth now? What finally broke the camel’s back? I’d just like to know.
Okay, back to the angels. The whole “evil angels” plot has been done before, and better, from movies like THE PROPHECY (1999), with Christopher Walken as an evil angel, to CONSTANTINE (2005). So it’s nothing new. But I didn’t really mind it here. You said the angel characters here were “blah,” but I thought the battle scenes between Michael (Paul Bettany) and Gabriel (Kevin Durand) were the best fights in the movie.
MA: Really? I was bored.
LS: I dug the way Gabriel used his wings as a weapon. C’mon, it wasn’t that bad.
What I had a problem with was the way this movie seemed to make up its rules as it went along.
First, there’s this gigantic cloud of flies that descends on our heroes. Then, just as conveniently, they’re gone. Then the possessed people show up, become a major problem for a while, and then they’re gone (and I still didn’t buy that “people possessed by angels” thing – mainly because the angels would have been a lot more powerful and effective just showing up as themselves!). Then the possessed people come back only when it’s convenient to the story, and are rendered inactive when Gabriel shows up. Why? The explanations for why one threat ends and another begins isn’t properly explained, and isn’t believable. If any of these creatures kept their onslaught going instead of running away, they would have been able to defeat a handful of humans!
I think a lot of this has to do with the budget. Maybe it cost too much to outfit a bunch of people with angel costumes, so they went for the easier to do “possessed humans” thing. But angels are just as easy to do in CGI as crowds of zombies are. This whole aspect just seemed dumb to me.
MA: I would have to agree with you on all these points. Plus midway through this movie the pace really deteriorates. It’s almost as if after an intense exciting first half, the movie runs out of gas.
LS: The reason for the bad pacing in the second half is exactly because of the stuff I just mentioned. One threat comes, then suddenly leaves without reason. It totally messes up the pacing of the movie.
MA: There’s some other holes in the plot as well. It’s never explained who the baby is supposed to be. Why is the baby so important? If the baby dies, so does humankind. Why? This is never explained. Imagine the TERMINATOR movies not really explaining why the unborn John Connor had to be killed?
LS: Yeah! Is he the messiah? Is he a human/angel hybrid somehow? Does he wear lots of Angel Repellent? There is absolutely no attempt to explain why he is so important.
MA: The threat isn’t really explained all that well either. Just why exactly do the angels need to possess human bodies to do their dirty work? Why doesn’t God just end things himself? The story just doesn’t make much sense, and this really kills a lot of the suspense.
MA: I also thought the plot point of trying to save an unborn child borrowed too heavily from the TERMINATOR series, so this didn’t help.
If LEGION hadn’t been about angels, it would have been a much better movie. Had the threat been something else, something that made more sense, the story would have held up better. Then again, even if the threat had been something other than angels, the movie still would have had problems because the pacing slowed down to a Romero zombie pace, and the ending was nowhere near as exciting as the beginning.
LS: Hey! Don’t bring Romero into this! He knows how to pace a movie!
MA: No, I said it moves like one of his zombies!
I highly recommend the FIRST HALF of this movie, which is a wild, fun ride, but the second half completely falls apart, as it descends into a silly storyline about battling angels. To put it in perspective, I enjoyed the first half of LEGION better than any part of the other January new releases, DAYBREAKERS or THE BOOK OF ELI, but the second half was sillier and made less sense than either of those two movies.
So, what does this all mean? Like the other two movies this month, LEGION is a mixed bag, and it’s definitely one where you wouldn’t mind stepping out for that bag of popcorn midway through the movie.
LS: I think the first half is better, too. But I don’t think the problem is the angels. I think the problem is the writers just didn’t know what to do with the angels. In a flashback scene, we see hordes of angels filling the sky as Michael and Gabriel look on (this is before Gabriel comes to earth). And you wonder, why couldn’t that have happened in present day? Hordes of angels attacking the diner (instead of just ONE!) would have been so much more dramatic and visually exciting than the same old possessed people/zombie thing we’ve seen a million times! If you’re going to do something creative, go all the way with it! Don’t sell it half way and then drop the ball.
Despite a mostly good cast, and a promising plot, this movie ends up being a big dud. Definitely wait to rent the DVD for this one. I paid $11 for a ticket, and I don’t feel I got my money’s worth by any stretch of the imagination.
MA: Well, that about wraps things up.
LS: Yeah, let’s pay our bill and get out of here before somebody mistakes me for Santa Claus or something.
MA: Yeah, right.
(They pay their bill, and as they exit, they bump into a LITTLE GIRL.)
LITTLE GIRL to LS (in demonic voice): Hey, Santa, where’s your fluffy white beard?
(LS and MA scream and run away from the diner.)
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares