Spoilers (sort of)
Legion is a 2010 film directed by Scott Stewart and written by Peter Schink. This is not so much a review of the movie as a short analysis on why it fails to be entertaining.
After watching the movie I couldn’t say exactly what was wrong with it because Legion is not a relatively bad movie, not a good movie, but better than what most people pick up for their monthly bad movie night. It ranks above Disturbance, A Dangerous Man, Showgirls, and Bag of Crushed Child, and the like, but this is all even worse as the movie is simply mediocre and won’t even gain cult status. There isn’t, at first glance, anything wrong with the movie. It has a standard teaser with three acts structure common in Hollywood, it has decent acting, dialogue, and a fair story. The characters are well-developed for how many of them there are, and there aren’t any inconsistencies in the plot. The premise is stupid, but there are plenty of stupid movies that are decent even good.
So what exactly is wrong with this movie? After thinking about it for awhile this is what I came up with:
First, it is unfocused. The film strikes me as if the script were a really good first draft. The plot and characters are all there, but the story needs a rewrite, maybe more than one, to really discover its potential.
Early in the movie, the archangel Michael breaks through a wall leaving a cross-shaped hole. This sets up an expectation in the audience that the movie will be an over-the-top fast-and-loose flick featuring angels and ridiculous For Jesus The Power of Christ Compels You tongue in cheek action. The movie, however, doesn’t deliver on this promise and that is what alienates the popular audience. Not delivering on this unspoken promise is what makes it so unappealing.
On a circum-spurious glace at Wikipedia, I noticed that the writing credit for Legion states that it was “written by Peter Schink and rewritten by Stewart (the director).” Indulge me as I tell a fictional story about how this movie probably was written.
Mr. Schink decides that he is going to write a screenplay about people fighting angels culminating in an epic fight between the archangels Michael and Gabriel. Awesome, right? Luck upon luck, the producer/studio/director reads it and likes it enough to buy it. But! Due to concerns about the plot being blasphemous/improbable/incomplete they decide to have the director retool it. He bowdlerizes it, puts in elements from the Terminator, adds bits and pieces where he thinks they should be and leaves the film feeling insecure about important things like its point and purpose. It starts out like it should be unbounded absurdity and ends as a dreary slog. In American movies the only sin is being dull.
There is a larger problem, a more basic issue that relates to conflict. I said earlier that the characters are well developed. That was a lie, or at least a partial one. The characters are well developed for clichés. They are stereotypes, but that’s okay because we understand their motivations and their back stories because they are all so easy to relate to: The pregnant waitress, the father with a shady past heading home to see his son, the bitchy unpleasant couple, the car mechanic with a heart of gold, et al, are like people we might meet at a road side diner. But if you ask me who the protagonist is early in the film I’ll have to shake my head. It could be one of three people: Charlie (the waitress), Jeep (road stop employee with a heart of gold), or Kyle (wants to see his son). The movies tries to have them all be the protagonist with crappy results.
What really kills this movie is more basic still and is something that can be applied to all forms of media that have complete stories.
None of the human characters are equal to the problem presented by the story. They are at the complete mercy of the script, having no say if they live or die. Let’s be clear, to make an interesting story the heroes must be equal to the problem. If they do not or cannot fight the crisis on their own then there is no point watching them. Characters do not need to always be able to overcome the crisis, but they need to at least appear to have a chance. In Legion the only one who has any power is the archangel Michael. The most interesting scene is an earlier one, before Michael arrives at the diner, where when confronted by a possessed old lady, the characters work together to defeat her. Later, when a giant crowd of possessed folks have surrounded the diner, the problem jumps to an unsolvable level (why the possessed don’t bust down the door like zombies is beyond me and apparently the screenwriter).
Now, one last note. Is this movie blasphemous as has been claimed? I’d say yes. Not that it bothers me, but let’s examine why. I went in to this film expecting a pro-Christian message (and expecting a shit fest, Christian movies are usually not that good), but the message the movie’s premise dictates (by making the possessed angels rather than demons) is that God can make mistakes. It also appears that God is trying to kill the second Messiah, but the pregnant waitress’s child could easily be the anti-Christ due to the unclear nature of the script. I don’t think the blasphemy is intentional however. I believe it results, like most things in this movie, from clumsy execution.