The nicest thing I can say about Legion is that it’s conventional. All of the elements and characters you’d expect from a siege movie are here — a remote location (deserts work best), a stranger with a past, a single mom, a bickering married couple, a wise black guy, a local bohunk who can’t live up to his full potential as long as he stays in this dead-end town, and a dude that shows up out of nowhere and starts barking orders because he’s the only one that knows exactly what’s going on. You even get the “don’t open that door or we’re all dead” scene several times, which, in all honesty, kind of loses its impact after the first time when they don’t end up “all dead”.
What sets Legion apart is its faithful devotion to spiritual hooey. The gist is that God is fed up with “all the bullshit” (as explained to us in Adrienne Palicki’s voiceover at the start of the film and repeated verbatim at the end, for those of us who can’t remember things that happened ninety minutes ago). He sends the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) down to a greasy-spoon diner to kill the unborn baby of Palicki’s character, Charlie, for no specific reason (Some lip service is paid to Charlie’s baby being the thing that will save mankind, whatever that means. This movie doesn’t like dealing in specifics). Michael changes his mind, decides to save the baby, and basically screws things up for the whole world — causing an unstoppable horde of angel-possessed human monsters and rival archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand, most famous for playing lunkheads) to try and finish the job.
The first angel-possessed person appears as a kindly old granny before spitting out a couple of unexpected f-bombs and scampering up the ceiling like a bug in a lunatic scene that provides about ten seconds worth of consideration that the movie might actually be entertaining. When that attack is followed by one from an ice cream man, I started to wonder if the film would continue presenting goody-goody archetypes one-after-the-other only to shock you with the revelation that they were indeed monsters in disguise. I was right. The next attack featured a pretty little girl with a sundress and a balloon. The one after that had an adorable toddler with an Eight is Enough Adam Rich bowl cut.
They do break things up a bit by having a demolition derby car crammed with punk rockers get theirs at the end of a machine gun wielded by the Stranger with a Past (Tyrese Gibson), an image that defines Legion’s retarded sensibilities. The whole movie is that nonsensical,trying to force siege movie cliches to marry something that resembles Constantine, if Constantine was being retold to you by a grade schooler. Nothing is ever explained in a worthwhile fashion, nothing ever pays off, nothing ever excites. Director Scott Stewart’s idea of an action scene consists entirely of someone firing a gun in every direction.
His horror scenes are equally incomprehensible. In one, a character is not just crucified upside-down (what?), but he’s covered in computer-generated throbbing boils that eventually explode, causing another character’s back to be wounded to the point where his spine is completely exposed. It’s a “huh, cool” gore moment that also makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Legion’s other problem is its chemistry-free cast. Adrienne Palicki, the least well-known member of the cast, is also about the only one who doesn’t come across as completely awful. Lucas Black, on the other hand, gives a career-worst performance as that local bohunk I mentioned earlier. He’s earnest — oh, so very earnest –delivering his every twangy line with a furrowed brow and his very best intense stare. Charles S. Dutton (as the wise black guy), usually reliable, overshoots his acting, turning drama into melodrama. Dennis Quaid (playing Black’s dad) gives the kind of performance you’d expect from someone who sees themselves as better than the material. Bettany is completely out of his element as a B-movie action hero, too stuffy to be having a lick of fun, too self-important to be the slightest bit self-aware.
Ultimately, Legion doesn’t work for the exact same reasons. It doesn’t seem to be aware that its following in the footsteps of a couple dozen similar (and better) films. By giving the siege movie a religious spin, it wants to be taken as deadly serious and geek chic cool. I would never describe Legion as fun (it needed way more scenes like the one with granny; less scenes of Durand and Bettany waxing philosophical on the wants and needs of an angry God), but I would describe it as dumb. I don’t think that’s what they were going for.