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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Legion (review)

Oh God

Forget all that nonsense about fending off evil spirits with Bibles and holy water and garlic or whatever. Automatic weapons is what you need. Guns and bullets: this shit is real, man. Oh, and if you can arrange for a muthafuckin’ badass renegade angel like a ripped and tattooed Paul Bettany to be on your side, all the better.

I like to think about rebel cherubs up in Heaven totally grooving on Quentin Tarantino movies and maybe Taxi Driver and shit, and that’s how they learned how to use guns and be all street and stuff. Cuz I don’t want to think about a Heaven in which you can’t even walk down to the corner for a soda without getting iced. That would seriously suck as an afterlife. Maybe that’s why Paul Bettany’s Michael blew that joint, and not, as he explains, because God asked him to do something really Nasty and Not Cool. Though that would be enough to justify the self-exile.
I am dubious about the theological underpinnings of Legion. And I don’t even believe in this crap. I generally like my fantasy to hang together in some sort of semblance of sense, however.

Mostly, what Legion makes me think is: When did Paul Bettany (Inkheart, The Secret Life of Bees) get so hot? Now, I’m not so self-deluded as to think that Bettany was not hot before and suddenly did get hot — I understand that something just clicked over for the first time in my lady brain that made me go, Damn. I mention this because even with the small thrill of being able to look at Paul Bettany in this movie and think wonderfully wicked things about him — especially considering that he’s supposed to be an angel and all — this was still not enough for Legion not to bore the hell out of me.

See: Drooling over the lead actor was actually relevant to mention in my review.

It’s Terminator, basically, with Bettany’s angel Michael from Heaven instead of the future and out to protect pregnant Charlie (Adrianne Palicki: Women in Trouble) from the just-arrived armageddon, because her baby is the new Jesus who will redeem humanity, or something. (In case you didn’t understand that, the movie opens in the early hours of a December 23rd, and Charlie’s baby is born in the early hours of December 25th. It’s totally sacred and shit. With explosions.) It doesn’t really make much sense, and mixes up Old Testament and New — God is smiting us humans because he’s bored with us, but he’s using zombies this time instead of flood; and also: Jesus II! But at least Michael isn’t the baby’s father like Kyle Reese was that other savior John Connor’s dad. On the other hand, we never really understand why Charlie’s baby is gonna save the world, or even if she got knocked up by midichlorians or what. (Director Scott Stewart wrote the script with Peter Schink; both of them are making their feature debuts. I suspect neither of them paid much attention in Sunday school. Which you absolutely have to do even if you want to make fun of the fairy stories. Not that I think that’s what they’re trying to do here. I think they thought, Badass angels! and nothing more.)

Anyway, Charlie works in the middle of the Mojave Desert in an old diner, and this is where the shit goes down. It’s your basic zombie apocalypse, hoards of no-longer-human people attacking — they’re possessed by bad angels, or, I guess, they’re good angels since they’re doing what God told them to do, and they want the baby, see — and Michael mowing them down with some seriously cool weapons he stole from some bad guys in Los Angeles (or else he had been stockpiling his own cache in anticipation of this day — that’s another thing we never really quite get an explanation on). That’s pretty much it. I mean, sure, there’s the standard cast of zombie fodder to be chewed through before– well, far be it from me to spoil the ending. The five people in the global audience for this movie who haven’t seen the 184,392 other films just like this will may indeed be surprised at how it finishes.

I will say this: Bettany does make the ludicrous and preposterous believable, at least for a moment, while he’s explaining what his deal as God’s loyal opposition is. And not just cuz he looks, ahem, pretty heavenly without his shirt on. Though that doesn’t hurt.


MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • If I want end-of-the-world scenarios in dumpy little diners in the middle of nowhere, somebody better start putting a screenplay together of A. Lee Martinez’ “Gil’s All-Fright Diner”…at least it has a vampire and a werewolf in it, along with zombies and a tip o’ the tentacle to the Old Ones. (To be fair, the vampire seems to have all the looks of Steve Buscemi.)

  • Arco

    Wait, I’m confused….God wants to destroy mankind (and side stepping the usual ‘why doesn’t he just snap his fingers’-thing) so sends angels to do it, but he also puts a new Jesus in some gals belly and…then sends his own angels to destroy him??

    And the only good angel is fighting them AND god to proetect the new Jesus? That god deliberately created? Wuh?

    Is this the dumbest movie of this already generally dumb, dumb sub-genre??

  • Isobel

    Huh. Even Supernatural makes more sense than it sounds like this does.

  • RogerBW

    At least someone is admitting (sidewise, so as not to scare the fundies too much) that “I feel like ending the world today” God is not automatically the good guy.

  • Knightgee

    I’m pretty sure it’s commonly agreed that Jesus’ birthday isn’t actually on Christmas, they just decided to move the celebration of it to what had been a popular holiday for a pagan religion in order to prevent followers from engaging in that other religion’s holiday. So the movie doesn’t even get it’s own basic theology right.

    Also, given that Jesus is supposed to be the son of God, how is he being born for the second coming without God’s consent? I’m also surprised the film doesn’t bother with Lucifer at all, since one would think rebelling against God(or even helping to eliminate mankind) would be right up his alley.

    And since when is having the world be executed by angels a better alternative to a worldwide flood or an ill-timed meteor shower or any number of options the Almighty Creator would have had? This entire film is flawed from the ground up and never stops being flawed from start to finish.

  • Paul

    Yeah, but having Satan be the good guy would only attract atheists on the way to hell to buy tickets, and that’s not a big %.

    I wonder if they intended this to be a Christmas movie, saw the end result, thought, Oh My God, what have we done? and then threw it out with the trash in January.

  • Ogami Itto

    But … but, angels with machine guns!

  • CB

    An angel who has any use for a machine gun is a pretty lame-ass angel to me.

  • Neil

    Had a bad feeling about this one the first time I saw the trailer, and the old lady in the diner goes all crazy and climbs up the wall in that herky-jerky fashion which, correct me if I’m wrong, was popularized in J-horror, then the American remakes of J-horror films, and now EVERYONE is doing it…

    Gah. Then, angels. With actual wings. But they need guns…? Aaaalllllllrrrighty then!! That’s quality writing!!

  • Paul

    Well, you know us humans. We breed like bunnies, while angels don’t have kids, so it’s a lot harder to exterminate us nowadays. Can you imagine how long it would take to kill of us with swords?

  • Knightgee

    I’m gonna have to go with CB on this one:

    An angel who has any use for a machine gun is a pretty lame-ass angel to me.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m pretty sure it’s commonly agreed that Jesus’ birthday isn’t actually on Christmas, they just decided to move the celebration of it to what had been a popular holiday for a pagan religion in order to prevent followers from engaging in that other religion’s holiday. So the movie doesn’t even get it’s own basic theology right.

    Oh, it’s entirely probable — likely, even — that the writers of this movie don’t know this fact about Christianity. But even if they do know it, there’s no way they could actually use this fact in the film. Because most Christians don’t know it.

    I wouldn’t call this a theological fact: it’s just a matter of history and comparative mythology. Neither of which most people, not just Christians, don’t understand. (Tell most Christians about Mithras or all the other prophets who were born on December 25 and were the son of god, and they’ll stare at you like you’re the one who’s crazy. Because Christianity isn’t just the latest in a long line of religions that plugs into people’s basic fears, with some nature worship thrown in — oh no, not at all.)

  • MBI

    “Wait, I’m confused….God wants to destroy mankind (and side stepping the usual ‘why doesn’t he just snap his fingers’-thing) so sends angels to do it, but he also puts a new Jesus in some gals belly and…then sends his own angels to destroy him??

    And the only good angel is fighting them AND god to proetect the new Jesus? That god deliberately created? Wuh?”

    They explain this in the movie by having God going back on his own decisions. First he wants this, then he changes his mind, and so on. It is the most bipolar depiction of the Almighty I’ve ever seen. Even if God decided at the end not to destroy the world, if I was a character in that movie I would never ever ever set foot in a church again. God is basically a fickle brat who every once in a while decides to kill everyone. Makes you wonder what Satan needs to accomplish when God’s doing all his work for him.

    But God isn’t the real asshole, here: Angels are. God tells them to kill humanity, yes, but man, they really get into it. They’re blasting metal music, swearing like sailors — you get the feeling that they’ve been waiting to do this for years.

  • Still doesn’t make any sense. If god changed his mind, can’t he just make the woman carrying the savior miscarry of something? This is god we are talking about! The only explanation is that god is some sort of twisted roman emperor watching a gladiator match. His goal isn’t any side winning or losing. He just wants to watch all the bloodshed and suffering!

    (OT: This reminds me of a conversation I had with a deeply christian cousin who was anti-abortion and thought birth control was interfering in “god’s plan”. I was all WTF?? He’s fucking omnipotent! If there really were a god and he wanted you to have babies, you think some puny human-made devices are gonna stop it?? Then they trot out “free will”. Well, how convenient. So, he’s all-powerful, but gave humans free will so they go against him and end up in hell. But, god loves you. O_o )

  • MaryAnn

    It is the most bipolar depiction of the Almighty I’ve ever seen.

    Have you read the Old Testament?

  • Paul

    While I agree that it doesn’t make sense for God to change its mind, being all seeing, all knowing, etc, one would think it would get it right the first time, I do think free will is a necessary assumption in most judicial systems. Punishment only makes sense if you assume free will. Without free will, then your whole system of societial justice has to be reworked. Of course, I do think our whole system of societial does have to be reworked, because I believe in a sliding scale of free will rather than absolute have or have not.

  • Knightgee

    Have you read the Old Testament?

    Now, let’s be fair. The Old Testament God is pretty consistent in that if you cross him even slightly, he WILL fuck your shit up.

  • Ogami Itto

    Now, let’s be fair. The Old Testament God is pretty consistent in that if you cross him even slightly, he WILL fuck your shit up.

    OT God also enjoys fucking with people just for laughs: see Job, Book of.

  • Pickles

    “I am dubious about the theological underpinnings of Legion…”

    Really? You mean angels don’t really have maces with retractable blades and spin-cycles? I’m pretty sure I read that in the bible.

  • Moe

    I swear this movie was written by a thirteen year-old after having just watched Underworld, The Matrix, and Constantine in one sitting.

  • Dokeo

    Yeah, but having Satan be the good guy would only attract atheists on the way to hell to buy tickets

    Why would atheists buy tickets for a movie with “Satan” as the good guy? We don’t believe in “him” either…that’s kinda the point.

  • Boingo

    Sometimes, MJ’s review & the comments are more
    creative than some movie scripts.

  • Paul

    “Why would atheists buy tickets for a movie with “Satan” as the good guy? We don’t believe in “him” either…that’s kinda the point.”

    I was trying to think from the point of view of a marketer who probably thinks of himself as a Christian and only shows up for church at Christmas and Easter. After all, right wing Christians think Wiccans worship Satan, too.

    Which leads me to wonder what Wiccans think of Willow from “Buffy” who is sorta Wiccan but flirts with dark magic (not specifically satanic but her favorite adjective for her magic is dark which hints at evil, and goes dark in Season 6).

  • Knightgee

    Why would atheists buy tickets for a movie with “Satan” as the good guy?

    Being an atheist doesn’t mean one isn’t capable of appreciating biblical mythology as fiction. Besides, Satan is easily the most interesting character in the Bible. I’d certainly see a movie about him as the good guy. Heck, Vertigo comics already did that and I loved it.

  • bracyman

    Satan is easily the most interesting character in the Bible

    Satan wasn’t really in the bible as much more than an occasional reference. And as an ardent Steven Brust fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he has a book that does pitch Satan(well, Lucifer) as the hero. Neil Gaiman has a short story in Smoke and Mirrors that suggests Lucifer turned against the Lord because of a perceived injustice .

    Warning: Smoke and Mirrors contains a version of Snow White that will never let you read the story in the same way. But is totally worth it.

  • Dokeo

    RE: Atheists, Tickets & Satan

    @ Paul: I wish it were only “right wing” Christians who think atheist = devil worshiper. Unfortunately, lots of people seem to jump to this interpretation – ‘cause if you’re not FOR g-d you must be AGAINST g-d. So I get a little twitchy – thanks for letting me know you were just positing a hypothetical bible-thumping marketing cadre. :-)

    As for Willow on “Buffy,” it’s been a while since I’ve watched the series, but I remember that Tara’s magic wasn’t “dark,” and Willow’s didn’t start that way either. It was only when Willow began to depend on her magic to help her get through daily life that it started to be “dark.” I took it as a metaphor for substance abuse: it eventually took over her whole life until she hit bottom and had to make a change – but not before she was “bored now,” which was SERIOUSLY dark.

    @ Knightgee: For mythology, I prefer stories from the Egyptians, Greeks & Romans (or any mythology based on a pantheon vs. omnipotent monotheistic deities). I much prefer stories in which the supernatural beings correlate to forces of nature or aspects of humanity/psychology and then interact in interesting ways.

  • Paul

    I think a lot of what happens in the art world (not just the movie or TV world) can be better explained by market forces than artistic forces. I submitted an essay to STrange Horizons just last week on “Twilight” for example (cross my fingers, hope, hope,hope), explaining its success via an underserved market niche and the combination of genres (a combination that annoyed as many people as it pleased, obviously).

    While I agree about Tara, I recall Willow as early as season three refering to magic with dark adjectives, except in season three she sounded so cheerful about it. But I agree that she didn’t cross the line in her actions into dark magic until Season six.

    For the record, and I did my grad school research partly on this, in the Middle Ages you had a three fold division of magic: Natural magic (built into God’s creation by God for our use), Divine magic (direct from God: miracle), and Evil magic (from competing theological beings, such as Satan or pagan gods, or devils impersonating pagan gods). So if you assume a Christian God, every time Willow invoked a pagan name, she used evil magic, even as early as Season Three. Obviously, the Buffyverse does not assume the primacy of God, which confuses the definitions, which might be Joss Whedon’s ultimate purpose in life.

  • Warning: Smoke and Mirrors contains a version of Snow White that will never let you read the story in the same way. But is totally worth it.

    Smoke and Mirrors contains a lot of short stories that are totally worth it. If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so.

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