Friday, January 22, 2010

When Angels Attack

When people accuse James Cameron of not being fully original with Avatar (if I had a nickel for every shrill cry of "It's Ferngully in Space!" that I've heard I'd be as rich as, well, James Cameron ) they clearly don't know or don't appreciate the kind of wholesale pilfering that constantly goes on in the world of genre cinema. Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy are all about recycling familiar ideas and putting new glosses on time-tested storylines. Personally, I find that to be part of their appeal - seeing the same stories retold in different ways, for different eras and different generations. Rip-offs, homages, shared inspiration, whatever - it's what makes the genre world go 'round.

That said, I believe Legion has set a new record for appropriating from other sources - blatantly lifting from The Prophecy, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, From Dusk Till Dawn, Maximum Overdrive, Exorcist III, and The Terminator.

Scriptwise, Legion is a Frankenstein monster of stitched together parts - which makes it a good thing that director Scott Stewart (who re-wrote Legion after Peter Schink's original draft) is able to provide some lightening to bring it to life.

Brought to life or no, many will still call this movie an ungainly creature (and not without good reason) but I think as a calling card (this is Stewart's first feature after a long career in visual effects), Legion portends a promising directorial future for Stewart. I know for damn sure that I'm now jazzed to see his next film, this summer's futuristic vampire opus Priest. As long as it leans heavily on the visuals, I bet that it'll be a great time - regardless of the script. A lot of reviewers in nerd circles gave the recent Daybreakers props for being like an old-school John Carpenter movie but in truth, it was nothing like old-school Carpenter. Legion, on the other hand, absolutely is (even if it lacks the skilled finesse of those early films).

Carpenter's films are known for favoring siege scenarios with compressed timelines and characters defined through action and Legion is 100% in that mold. Think of it as Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Omen.

At the Paradise Falls diner in New Mexico, the last stand of humanity is taking place. Adrianne Palicki plays Charlie, a waitress who's pregnant with the child who may be the Second Coming. Unfortunately, God has decided that he wants to scrub humanity altogether and he's sent an army of angels to accomplish that. Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) has gone rogue, however (he even cut off his own wings!), and he plans to stand between Charlie and the forces of Heaven who want to ensure that her baby is never born. Helping Michael are Dennis Quaid as Bob, the diner's owner; Lucas Black (of American Gothic) as Bob's son Jeep; Charles S. Dutton as Percy, the diner's one-handed cook, and an assortment of other diner patrons who just happen to be passing through when Judgement Day comes.

The action in Legion is bloody and over-the-top (including a splat-stick moment that would be at home in a Sam Raimi movie as a possessed old lady gets nailed with a hurled frying pan - although Stewart plays even the most exaggerated bits with a straight face) and it already has an early front runner for Best Fight Scene for next year's Video Music Awards with a heavyweight WWE smackdown between archangels Michael and Gabriel (Kevin Durand). I've read that originally, the Legion script had the angel characters as demons and that Stewart altered the storyline to its present form when he came on board. If so, good choice. Demons have been done to death in a hundred horror films but jacked-up, battle-hardened angels who truly do kick ass for the Lord, not so much. And as a heads-up, fans of the DC Comics character Hawkman should check this out because to see Gabriel in action with his enormous wings and his pimped-out mace is to see just how sick a live-action Hawkman movie could be.

Make no mistake - Legion is a ridiculous movie. It's both harebrained and lunkheaded. However, it'd be a lie to say that I didn't enjoy myself - even if I was laughing uproariously at moments that were likely not meant as comedy. Still, I hope there's always a place in this sad little world for pulp nonsense like this. And I'm telling you - keep an eye on Scott Stewart. One day he's going to make a movie that geeks will really go crazy over. Or maybe not. But for now, I've got faith.


Bob Ignizio said...

This definitely looked like a "so bad it's good" kind of movie from the previews. Hopefully I get to check it out for myself this weekend.

Jeff Allard said...

As long as you don't pay full price for it, I think you'll have a decent time!

Unknown said...

damn I can't wait to see this. I am obsessed with that dude with multiple legs who walks all hunched over. It's going to be awesome. Great review! I figured everyone would tear this film a new one. Thanks for being brave enough to be honest!

Jeff Allard said...

No problem, Jay - although to be fair to the many, many people who will hate this movie, I'm sure they're being honest too! I just happened to find Legion to be an enjoyably trashy B-movie. Hope it lives up to your expectations!

Matt-suzaka said...

Sounds like exactly what I thought it would be, which is something that I will love! I am pumped to see Legion and it's pretty nice to see a movie like this make it out into the theaters for all to see. Though, I doubt many people will actually go and see it, at least it's there for viewing.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, I don't know how well Legion will do at the box office. Hope you get a chance to check it out before it's gone!