Religion is a tough plot device to wrangle for even the hardest-boiled veteran filmmaker. The balance of maintaining creative license and deigning to the pressures of the almighty Box Office is a delicate one, and its successful maneuvering can lead to critical praise and commercial success for the resulting film. One misstep, though, can undo a lifetime of sincere effort. Fourteen missteps, well, that just turns into “Legion.”
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“Legion” is ostensibly about a boring diner full of boring people, including a pregnant young grouch who unknowingly carries another Messiah in her womb. These unlikeable stock characters ramble interminably about things in which the audience has no interest — in one scene, the diner’s owner hits the TV to improve the reception for what might be ten uninterrupted minutes — until Paul Bettany (“The Da Vinci Code”) shows up with a car trunk full of guns and a bloody back where his wings used to be. He’s the archangel Michael, and he’s here to save us from the evil forces of God.
That’s right, God is the villain in “Legion.” The Big Man Upstairs is sick of humanity turning its back on Him, and He has decided to wipe us all out using His famous strategy of sending angels to possess weak-willed humans like zombies — an attack He hasn’t employed since the Book of Applebee’s.
There’s a precedent in scripture for God’s dissatisfaction with mankind. Angels have been characterized as warriors in films past. But “Legion” introduces the concept that those who deliver God’s judgment are malevolent demons. The first attack comes from a little old lady, whose violent intentions are revealed after she eats a raw steak covered in flies, tosses some F-bombs at the pregnant girl, rips open a man’s throat with her shark teeth and skitters around on the ceiling like a spider. She’s supposed to be on God’s side?
It’s asking a lot of an audience to root against God, and the religious and atheist viewer alike deserve more than just villainous, foul-mouthed angels as a reason to do so. Michael continually explains his decision to revoke his angel status and defend humanity as giving God what He needs rather than simply what He wants. The film flatly states bizarre assumptions like these, and the audience is expected to accept them without question. It doesn’t matter whether the viewer believes in God; he or she deserves more than to be thrown into a film where mankind’s traditional source of compassion and mercy becomes a zombie warlord.
So yes, “Legion” will grossly offend any practitioner of an Abrahamic faith. But it should offend everyone else, too. It’s not terribly important that the film vilifies God so lazily when everything else in it is such indefensible garbage.
Michael’s introductory wing removal is the crown moment of the film’s idiocy. He falls out of the sky, wings and all, in a patented Terminator bubble and lands in a Los Angeles alley before dragging a heavenly dagger across his nipples. Apparently angels’ wings are loosely affixed at the chest, because he then appears in a dirty bathroom with holes in his back before moving on to a room full of automatic weapons. Oh, you don’t know about the secret gun depot for fallen angels in Los Angeles?
Calling “Legion” stupid gives it too much credit. Stupidity implies some innocence. “Legion” is an aggressive defiance of reason. It should not have gone straight to Blu-ray. It should not have gone straight to Betamax. It should have gone straight to Hell.