Director – Scott Stewart, Screenplay – Peter Schink & Scott Stewart, Producers – David Lancaster & Michel Litvak, Photography – John Lindley, Music – John Frizzell, Music Supervisor – Chris Douridas, Visual Effects Supervisor – Joe Bauer, Visual Effects – Look Effects (Supervisor – Max Ivins), The Orphanage (Supervisor – Jonathan Rothbart) & Spin VFX (Supervisor – Jeff Campbell), Special Effects Supervisor – Randy Moore, Makeup Effects – Optic Nerve, Production Design – Jeff Higinbotham. Production Company – Bold Films
Paul Bettany (Michael), Lucas Black (Jeep Hanson), Adrianne Palicki (Charlie), Dennis Quaid (Bob Hanson), Tyrese Gibson (Kyle Williams), Charles S. Dutton (Percy Walker), Kevin Durand (Gabriel), Kate Walsh (Sandra Anderson), Willa Holland (Audrey Anderson), Jon Tenney (Howard Anderson), Jeannette Miller (Gladys Foster), Cameron Harlow (Minivan Boy), Doug Jones (Ice Cream Man)
Various people gather at the Paradise Falls diner run by Bob Hanson in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Bob’s son Jeep runs the adjoining garage and dutifully cares for the diner’s pregnant waitress Charlie, even though she does not return his affections. An old lady arrives at the diner and suddenly goes crazy, attacking everyone present and trying to kill Charlie to prevent the child from being born, before she is shot. A stranger turns up and rapidly takes charge, arming everybody with an arsenal of guns. Hordes of possessed people arrive outside and have to be blasted away as they attempt to break into the diner. The stranger introduces himself as Michael, saying that he is an angel. He tells how God has lost faith in humanity and has decided to bring an end to the world. However, Michael believes that humanity has worth and has rebelled against this decision. He has come down to protect Charlie’s child, which will be born with the power to save the world. The forces of Heaven want to kill the child to prevent this from happening. As they barricade themselves in, the angels bring all force to bear to break into the diner.
There is a scene early on in Legion where Dennis Quaid is trying to tune a tv set that is playing a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) where Henry Travers’ kindly angel appears to persuade James Stewart not to kill himself. It is a heavy-handed piece of irony that aptly demonstrates that Legion is a film about less-than-traditional movie angels. And maybe it is needed. When the angel has travelled from a lofty messenger of divine wrath as per the Old Testament to the ethereally divine beings of classic art to finally arrive at the bland do-gooders of tv’s Highway to Heaven (1984-9) and Touched By an Angel (1994-2003), not to mention being little more than the equivalent of spirit guides in modern New Age nonsense, it is time that someone reclaimed the fierce Old Testament idea of an angel. In fact, the idea is not new and has been done before on cinema screens in The Prophecy (1995), a far more intelligent film than Legion, which spawned several sequels.
Legion – not to be confused with or related to the low-budget alien amok film Legion (1998) or the William Peter Blatty novel Legion (1983) that became the basis of The Exorcist III (1990) – reads like an action movie version of The Prophecy. It is perhaps telling of the film’s approach that upon landing on Earth, the first thing that we see Paul Bettany’s angel do is to sew up the bloody stumps of his torn-off wings in gory detail, followed by his raiding an armoury to steal a massive arsenal of guns. That ultimately is where the focus of Legion lies – it is chiefly construed around a series of scenes with Paul Bettany and others wielding a large collection of artillery and blasting apart possessed zombies. That and a series of novelty gore effects – Doug Jones turns up as an ice cream truck attendant who distends his entire body to turn into a spider-like creature; Jon Tenney is nailed upside down on a cross and then explodes in a rain of ichor that burns Charles S. Dutton’s back away to the skeleton; as well as sundry other gore effects. The silliest of these – and indeed a scene that sinks Legion‘s credibility considerably only a small way into the film – is where an old lady (Jeannette Miller) turns up at the diner, starts talking foul-mouthed and then abruptly reveals black eyes and sharp teeth, before scuttling up the walls and around the roof, attacking everybody in sight. The scene is served up without the slightest sense of the absurdity it has on screen – not to mention that the geriatric ladies conducting ceiling scuttling antics is a direct rip-off of the far more effective scene in the aforementioned The Exorcist III.
The plot feels like a more serious version of the similar plot in Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995) about a group of people holed up in a motel fighting off demonic forces. Although it pays lips service to angels and possession, most of Legion plays out as though it is a zombie film, more along the lines of Night of the Living Dead (1968), which had various people holed up in a farmhouse shooting at the dead massed outside. Equally, Legion joins a horde of modern films such as Spawn (1997), End of Days (1999) and Constantine (2005), which have pretensions to religious significance but in their approach arrive at exactly the opposite effect – if there was a religious equivalent of the term anti-intellectual, they would surely embody it. Judaeo-Christian religion is something that regards issues of salvation and heavenly deliverance as matters of faith in things that cannot be seen, living by a certain moral code and following a process of inner revelation. Prayer and trusting in divine protection is all that one needs to fend off evil and drive away demonic forces. To the contrary, for films like Legion and these others, the war between light and darkness seems to be won by action heroes mowing down demonic hordes with very corporeal machine-guns. They involve the stripping away of matters theological to absurd action hero cliches – besides the demon-banishing weapon of choice in these films, the machine-gun, Legion also has angels combating one another with swords, fists, maces and spiked armed bands that turn into the equivalent of a high-speed drill bit, not to mention a nifty spinning move that turns their wings into a shield against gunfire.
Directed by Scott Stewart, previously a visual effects supervisor at The Orphanage, Legion is absurd on most counts. Scott Stewart tries to leaven the action/effects scenes with interludes that explore the characters. Normally, one would applaud characterization in a film but these become even more absurd than the effects sequences as Stewart trots out excruciatingly banal scenes that become risible in his strained efforts to generate emotion. About the time that Charles S. Dutton is telling his story and tears are rolling down his cheeks, one is contrarily laughing at the absurdity of it. Even more ridiculous is a scene that comes a few minutes later where Paul Bettany gives Lucas Black a pep talk on faith and love, as all the while angelic choruses play in the background. The dialogue is corny, verging on laughable – the most absurd line is when the angels announce [paraphrasing Shakespeare]: “The dogs of Heaven are unleashed.” In all of the silliness, at least Paul Bettany, who has become a rapidly rising star in 2009, gives a fine performance of coolly alien aloofness.
Scott Stewart and Paul Bettany subsequently reteamed for the marginally less silly Priest (2011) featuring Bettany as the title character combatting vampires in a post-holocaust future. Stewart next made the okay alien visitors film Dark Skies (2013) and the Christmas episode of the horror anthology Holidays (2016).
Legion was subsequently spun out as the tv series Dominion (2014-5).
(Nominee for Best Makeup Effects at this site’s Best of 2010 Awards).