Whether or not you believe in your Bible stories, it would seem virtually impossible that you could take a story about God sending an army of angels to wipe out humanity and make it boring. Unfortunately, such an accomplishment was within the grasp of first-time writer-director Scott Stewart and his co-screenwriter Peter Schink. And they grasped it firmly indeed and made Legion. I have no idea why.
Presumably, Messrs. Stewart and Schink are admirers of religion-based horror. After all, they borrowed their biblical title from William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist sequel novel Legion, which formed the basis for Blatty’s film Exorcist III (1990). They also borrowed from that film the idea of an old lady scurrying along the ceiling. Most of Legion’s premise, however, is cribbed from Gregory Widen’s 1995 film The Prophecy (not to be confused with the 1979 John Frankenheimer Prophecy about a slimy mutant bear, which has nothing to do with this). The problem is that The Prophecy benefited from Christopher Walken as a sarcastic Gabriel, and a much cleverer screenplay than anything Legion has to offer.
What we have here is a none-too-appetizing cross section of humanity facing the wrath of God while holed up in a diner called Paradise Falls on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Never mind that waterfalls and deserts are rarely related—the name is clever, see? Anyway, there’s a pregnant waitress, Charlie (TV actress Adrianne Palicki), who, it transpires, is about to give birth to some ill-defined savior. Why or how is never explained, but that’s what the angel Michael (Paul Bettany)—who has hacked off his wings and decided to side with humankind—says, so it must be true.
God, it seems, is determined to keep this baby from being born. Why he can’t just smite Charlie is never addressed, nor is the reasoning behind the crafty old boy’s approach. He has a perfectly fine army of CGI angels, but rather than just send them to do the dirty work, God opts to have them possess the more susceptible members of humanity, making them lurch about like, well, like movie zombies. Unless God is interested in demographics and has been told by a focus group that zombies are a hot commodity, this makes very little sense, especially since the possessed are about as clever and useful as most movie zombies. Plainly speaking, you’d think the Supreme Being could do better, but then the movie would be about 10 minutes long. While that would be artistically desirable, it would be tough to market.
So the zombies lurch about, and our cross-section of humanity all prove or disgrace themselves according to the dictates of the horror-movie-cliché playbook. It’s supposed to be intense and exciting. Mostly, it’s just tedious. Oh, there are a few choice moments of juicy mayhem and a nice image or two of swirling angels (courtesy of Gustave Doré illustrations), but there’s not much to it in the end. There’s also the problem of the arrival of Michael’s nemesis, the angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), complete with wings and gladiator trimmings, making him look suspiciously like a refugee from a leather bar for persons with very specialized tastes in kink.
What is all this nonsense in the service of? Well, without actually giving the whole game away, let’s just say God could have saved himself a lot of trouble—humanity a lot of misery and moviegoers 100 minutes of wasted time—if he’d only have taken the words to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to heart. But then God seems a little slow on the uptake in this movie—or maybe he just isn’t a Rolling Stones fan. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language.