Sony Pictures // R // $34.95 // May 11, 2010
Review by Bill Gibron | posted May 9, 2010
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The Product:
How, on Earth, do you screw up something like this? Ass-kicking angels on a mission from God to wipe out the human race, said seraphim and cherubim armed with martial arts grace, bullet-proof wings (with razor-sharp tips), and endless arsenal of swords, knives, and stolen firearms, as well as a callous capacity to kill without conscience. Add in the ability to possess and cause the easily influenced to shapeshift and shuffle like zombies and you have the potential for a religious epic action splatterfest. All you need is a viable location for the final stand-off, a cast capable making you believe such malarkey, and a filmmaker skilled enough to bring it all together. Unfortunately, Legion loses out on these last three elements. The setting is silly, straight out of Stephen King and some killer trucks. The actors are likeable, but frequently lost in their paycheck cashing passivity, and F/X dude turned directing dud Scott Stewart just doesn't have the popcorn chops to make this combination of The Bible and bullet ballet thrill. In the ends, instead of Revelations, we get ridiculousness.

The Plot:
In the Mohave Desert is a little diner called Paradise Falls. It is run by cranky, chronically pissed off proprietor Bob, his moody son Jeep, and a well-meaning short order cook named Percy. There is also a pregnant waitress named Charlie that can't wait to give her unborn kid up for adoption. Jeep, unfortunately, is oddly obsessed with protecting the child and doesn't want to hear her talk about giving it away. One day, while dealing with the standard stragglers and angry out-of-towners, the restaurant is attacked by a little old lady with seemingly supernatural powers. Within minutes, another man arrives announcing that he is the archangel Michael and that the End of Times is coming.

We soon learn that God is mad at the human race and is sending his Holy Army down from Heaven to wipe the planet clean. The only hope? Charlie's almost full term fetus. As more and more 'minions' descend upon the diner, Michael hands out the weaponry and warns everyone - don't be deceived by what they see. Gabriel and the rest of his angelic associates are possessing the bodies of the easily-swayed, using them as part of Jehovah's final solution. Whatever they do, Michael states, they must protect Charlie and the kid. They are the world's only hope.

The Blu-ray:
This is what sitting around on the set of some big bloated blockbuster gets you. As part of visual effects production house The Orphanage, Scott Stewart has played a part in bringing such noted titled as Iron Man, Sin City, Superman Returns, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest to the silver screen. He also had a lot of time to think. When he finally got in touch with his muse, this is what he came up with - a 100 minute theologically confused thriller that's at least 40 too long, an incessantly talky bit of tripe that needed a lot more balls and a lot less blather to win over its intended audience. Everything starts off groovy enough. The archangel Michael falls to Earth, cuts off his own wings, and finds a seedy warehouse where he can sew up the wounds. Nice. He then ransacks an armory, bedazzles a couple of cops, and heads out to a diner in the Mojave Desert. So far, so good. But once we get to Paradise Falls and its collection of cut-rate archetypes (loner teen, bitter father, prophesying cook, slut savior waitress, rich bitch customer, her apologetic husband) the movie's mood hits reset. Instead of going for an Assault on Precinct 13 type of suspense, or a endless assault aspect like your typical Romero Dead entry, Stewart and co-screenwriter Peter Schink reset the mood, going from excitement to exposition - endless exposition.

Everything is over-explained in Legion: why God now hates humans; why Michael was sent down to destroy everything - and his change of heart; the role Charlie and Jeep play in preventing Armageddon; the need for protection; the lack of outside communication; why the diner is suddenly surrounded by inert creeps; and so on. Because of budgetary reasons - or worse, a lack of vision - Stewart can't serve up the apocalyptic swagger he keeps promising. About the only time the movie lives up to its potential is when Michael and Gabriel have a chitchat before the big invasion begins. Rendering Heaven like a combination of Olympus and Valhalla, the two angels lament their current position while battalion after battalion of winged warriors swoops down from the sky. Now THIS is the movie Legion should be - eye-popping spectacle with a hint of reverence and a lot of optical oomph. Instead, Dennis Quaid looks bloated, that kid from Sling Blade looks older (and just about as backwater), and Charles Dutton appears to be wondering why his Roc residuals have dried up. What we want is more quasi-demonic transformations ala the trailer's Ice Cream Man and spooky old croon. What we get instead, is reams and reams of dialogue.

Even the ending is anemic, boiling the entire afterlife invasion down to a poorly choreographed square-off between Paul Bettany's Michael and Kevin Durand's Gabriel. Sure, the arrival of the latter works wonderfully, the blasting of the fabled horn giving the set-up the right amount of import. But then once the two entities get to battlin', we grow annoyed and then bewildered. Stewart stages it in a heavily shadowed darkened room, the action almost always blurred by hand-held hi-jinx, jarring jump cuts, and other post-production tweaks. By the time we crown a victor and go on to the mandatory car chase, we've already given up on the anything good. We just hope that the finale won't wholly underwhelm, and then Stewart offers a long shot which is supposed to be prophetic, but winds up pathetic. After all, what is he showing us? A valley? A landscape? Something almost invisible even on the largest home theater set-up? Whatever we are supposed to take from the final image, Legion apparently doesn't want us to know. Instead, like the rest of the movie, it's unclear, oblique, and for the most part, more aggravating than arresting.

The Video:
Remember, this is 2010 filmmaking we're discussing here. Companies like Sony specifically craft their product to make an easy, near flawless transfer from big screen to high end small screen formatting, and the 2.40:1 image is excellent. The 1080p delivers details not seen at your local Cineplex (where projectionist frequently dial down the wattage, darkening the picture) and the complicated color scheme which mixes desert earthtones with the standard Saw style of sickening blue-grey-green comes across perfectly. Sure, such HD also illustrates some of the film's F/X flaws and obvious process shots, but for the most part, the movie looks amazing. Perhaps most impressive is the Heaven-based sequences. Flooded with light, we can still make out the gestures and moments of majesty contained therein. Overall, the video aspects of this release are ten times better than the movie they represent.

The Audio:
You'll remember the blare of Gabriel's prophetic horn when the DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack kicks in. The speakers literally jump with End of Days delight. Elsewhere, the various gun battles also provide a nice immersive, channel to channel challenge. Dialogue is always clear and the audio F/X are crisp and precise. Again, this is a fairly big budget Tinseltown title, so things should be as close to faultless as possible. From the sizzle and heat of the arid desert setting to the last act bombast of angel on angel fisticuffs, the aural elements here are equally impressive.

The Extras:
Again, we find ourselves in a situation in which a complicated picture-in-picture combination of commentary, cast and crew interviews, storyboard, F/X behind the scenes, and other parts of the production are supplementing something that doesn't really deserve it. There's also a 25 minute Making-of which covers some of the same territory, as well as a look at the characters individually and the visual trickery in the film. Those who wonder how certain sequences were created - including the psycho grandma and demonic Good Humor horror - will enjoy this part of the release in particular. Overall, the material offered on the Blu-ray (the pic-in-pic stuff is exclusive to the format) is fine. Too bad it couldn't be in service of something better.

Final Thoughts:
One day, someone will get right. Michael Tolkin's The Rapture remains one of the best examples of using the religious apocalypse as the basis for something both personally meaningful and symbolically powerful. Legion has a great premise. Unfortunately, it's poorly executed. It's not just the lack of vision on the part of director Scott Stewart. Without the support of a studio that's willing to turn this God and guns epic into something truly spectacular, it was destined to disappoint. Still, many might find the combination of bullets and brimstone intriguing enough to give it a spin, so a rating of Rent It is offered. It doesn't necessarily reflect the artistic achievements present, but it does indicate that a few more forgiving members of the intended demographic might take something away from this otherwise paltry presentation. Again, angels kicking ass should be a lot more fun than this. Sadly, Legion just wants to talk us through the end of the world, and the conversation grows boring very quickly.

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