You know how you've been waiting for a bad-ass angel movie? One that will finally cement the Feathered Soldiers of the Almighty in the action-flick firmament? Yeah well - Legion isn't it.
There's a moment late in Legion, the latest angels-on-the-loose apocalyptic thriller, that underscores where writer -director Scott Stewart's film succeeds and fails. Michael (played by Paul Bettany), an archangel who has forsaken his wings — and, as such, his heavenly mandate — in order to save an unborn child from an army of God's minions, faces down his former angelic brother-in-arms, Gabriel (Kevin Durand) in a dusty diner in the middle of nowhere. Michael is armed with little more than his wits and a massive machine gun; Gabriel's got his Kevlar-y wings and a mace that would make Xur (of the Ko-Dan Armada) jealous.
So Michael opens up with the machine gun, the bullets ricocheting off Gabriel's wings. And that right there is why Legion got made: the dropped-jaw coolness of angels unloading with automatic rifles. It's a captivating idea. But at the same time, you've gotta wonder: Didn't Michael know that the bullets would just bounce off? He used to be, in his words, "a general in God's Army"...shouldn't he have known better? Legion is blessed with moments of inspiration, and then cursed with the inability to follow through.
In a plot that bears more than a few uncomfortable similarities to the 1995 flick The Prophecy, Michael has come to our mortal plane because there's a child that needs protecting. Why? Who knows? But it's serious enough for Michael to crash land in Los Angeles, shave off his wings, and remove his halo — which, in an interesting and never explored wrinkle, is embodied by a collar around each angel's neck. (The lack of free will embodied by a totem of slavery? Ingenious.) Michael, it turns out, is disobeying a direct order from the Lord Almighty and taking matters in his own tattoo'd hands. So he steals a barge-load of weapons, nabs a police cruiser, and heads for Paradise Falls, a dingy truck stop on the edge of the Mojave Desert that's home to a handful of the most clichéd characters you'll ever meet.
How clichéd? Well, there's the crusty diner owner, Bob (Dennis Quaid), who speaks with a five-o'clock shadow; his son, Jeep (Lucas Black), who spends every waking moment doting on Charlie (Adrienne Palicki), a pregnant waitress who doesn't want the baby so much that she chain smokes. There's Percy (Charles S. Dutton), the cook who's both a veteran and a bible thumper; a horrible rich couple (Jon Tenney and Kate Walsh, slumming it) whose BMW broke down and whose scantily-clad daughter (Willa Holland) lives to provoke. Oh, and there's Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), the young black hip-hop fan who's so young and black that he carries a gun. And these are the people that we're forced to spend 100 minutes with at the end of the world.
See, apparently, God has decided that he's fed up with humanity and has ordered his angels to descend upon the Earth, laying waste to everyone and everything — saving a special hatred for Charlie's unborn child, who'll probably be mankind's savior. Or something. Also, angels apparently have the power to possess humans — just like demons — and make them do the dirty work. In case you weren't paying attention: God is the Big Bad in Legion. Yes, THE God. Who has an Army. Of angels. Who don't really fight anyone, but fly in really cool formations.
So we're left in a remote, solitary location with a cast of characters and the forces of...evil (I guess) trying to get in. If these characters didn't have the depth of an inflatable kiddie pool, Legion could've been fun, like the under-remembered Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. Or if the action never let up. Or if we had a firm grasp on the stakes before the last 20 minutes. Or the director knew how to stage a real fight scene. Or if anyone involved thought, "Hey, what if we made this movie, you know, fun?" Because there's nothing at all wrong with aiming for a crap riot and hitting the mark. (Otherwise, we'd never know the unmitigated joys of Reign of Fire. Oh, Bald McConaughey....) Instead, Legion is a series of badly written would-be-revelatory conversations between people we don't care about, punctuated by flurry of action that's meant to be either supercool (it isn't) or shocking (the old lady dropping the c-word before scuttling on the ceiling would've been surprising if it wasn't in the trailers).
Bettany tries his best to elevate the material with some RSC-trained portentousness, but one man can do but only so much. At both the end of the day and at the End of Days, what you want from a movie about angels doing battle with each other for the fate of the world is giant honking battles between dudes with wings. You want big religious smackdowny explodo. Not this.