Monday, October 25, 2010

Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes

The way I look at it, I can approach Legion (2010, directed by Scott Charles Stewart) from two directions: as an example of the current state of action/horror filmmaking, or as a film with an agenda. Neither approach does the film any favors. I'll own up to my own prejudices regarding the second approach when I get there.

The film stars Paul Bettany as the archangel, Michael, who has lost his faith in god and comes to Earth to defend the damned human race from his wrath. Once here, he cuts off his wings, raids an armory, and high-tails it for the Nevada desert where he defends a pregnant waitress from an army of angel-possessed people intent on doing her harm. She carries the messiah, it seems. The diner also has a colorful assortment of other characters played by better actors than you would expect, including Dennis Quaid, Kate Walsh, Charles Dutton, and Lucas Black. The basic set-up should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a zombie movie, because that's essentially what this is, though it adds a big boss at the end in the form of the archangel, Gabriel--he of the horn that sounds the trumps of doom. For the most part this is all sound and fury. There are no real surprises in this movie. It doesn't dare transgress its material into more disturbing implications, in spite of its willingness to throw children other than its messiah into the meat grinder and have an old lady use the word "cunt." It's notion of blasphemy is fairly tame, and fairly ridiculous. And it all boils down to fight scenes in the end, in which its main antagonist is shown to be something of a straw man. I mean, given that this is an Old Testament kind of story, you would expect hosts of angels to be able to pull off more than they do. There's even a ridiculous instance of the "let's all stand in a circle and attack them one by one" fallacy from countless martial arts films, so clearly, the angels aren't the terrifying creatures one expects. As an example of action/horror filmmaking, this is kind of dismal, regardless of its slick production values and stylized cinematography, because at the basic level of writing, it lets too many characters--and indeed its entire premise--off the hook because of the exigencies of the plot. It's a systemic failure.

As far as its agenda goes: If I squint, I can see this as a film in which the central conflict is between fundamentalism and humanism. Gabriel, the film's bad guy, interprets the word of god literally. Michael, the film's good guy, interprets the word of god through the dictates of his own sensibilities, and is willing to give god what he "needs" rather than what he says he wants. I imagine that some fundamentalists had conniptions over this film, but in the end, it wants to reassure the audience that god loves them after all even when he throws a temper tantrum. Nevermind the horror visited on the world outside of the film's little microcosm. There's no doubt that the film is portraying one of those periodic apocalypses promised by the Bible, and it's evidence of a god that is so indifferent to humanity that he'll order it destroyed on a whim.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm approaching this film from an atheistic point of view. I'm not intractable on the subject. The Bible is occasionally great literature and it's not that I don't respond to themes of good and evil. Hell, I love The Prophecy (1995), which is ten times the film this is while covering some of the same ideas, even if I don't believe any of it. But that film isn't a polemic, and Legion is, so I can't in good conscience give the film a pass. This film postulates a god so horrific that the conclusion at which it arrives is ridiculous. But then again, so does the Old Testament...

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 24

First Time Viewings: 24

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