Touched by an Angel
[rimshot] So, Paul, did it hurt when you fell from heaven? [/rimshot]
So Michael (Paul Bettany) drops to earth, cuts off his wings, the apocalypse starts, he stocks up on guns and starts shooting freaky old ladies who climb the walls like extras from Aliens. Set piece, boom, faux philosophy, set piece, boom, faux philosophy. Oh look a creepy kid channeling Gage from Pet Sematary. Gotta protect the pregnant chick until her crotchfruit of destiny pops out to save the world. All actors except the obvious Mary figure and obvious Joseph figure please line up to die in reverse order of paycheck size … except for the miscellaneous CW actress who just turned 18, the director has requested you be in the entire movie for some reason. Ooh, razor wings, how fancy! Ride off into the sunset … and cut! That should do it for The Prophecy VI: Walken’s Diner. And we’re set up just right for a straight-to-DVD sequel starring (whether their particular character is alive or dead at the end) the biggest name from the film having the largest dry spell two years from now.
Eh, Legion sets out what it aims to accomplish I guess, it’s got a reasonably entertaining set up and freakiness, a good location, better actors than it really deserves, and the first couple of acts do work fairly well so long as you can shut off your mind entirely. The third act falls apart, as third acts are wont to do in underachieving movies that just don’t have the writing chops or balls behind them to go someplace interesting. It’s set up from the start that there literally has to be a deus ex machina. God decides to exterminate mankind, and well, since he’s sort of like God, he’s going to keep on coming like the Terminator unless he changes his mind. So sort of definitionally, the film has three possible destinations: the obvious one (God cops an ex machina), the nihilistic one (mankind dies), or some utterly original third course. Yeah, um, spoiler warning, but Legion picks the obvious ending.
The biggest problem with the entire affair is that it just doesn’t think big enough. God created a couple hundred billion galaxies and his* chosen method for wiping out mankind is sending angels to possess random people off the street to shamble like zombies towards a diner and bang on the windows? The maker of heaven and earth can’t figure out how a tactical nuke works? Or an asteroid? Or maybe go with the old classic of a lightning bolt? If your script assumes that an all-powerful deity is less powerful than any random Joe with a bazooka, then you’ve got serious story problems. It could at least throw some bible babble at us like how the diner was built on sacred ground, or Lucifer has intervened so this will be settled the old fashioned way, or hell even the ultimate lazy route of “it has been prophesized that the child can only be killed with a whatsit wielded by a whosit at the witching hour on winter’s night.” Would that have been so hard?
And come on, really, the child of destiny crap again? Oh he’ll grow up and lead mankind back to goodness or some such. When exactly were we ever good? Well never mind that, at least we’ve established that free will doesn’t exist in this universe. Stand back everybody, all you catastrophic idiots will just get in the way, we’ve got a straight up motherfucking chosen one in the room. Shit, I was hoping to make a difference myself, but I didn’t get issued a shiny silver “extra special person who matters” certificate in my afterbirth.
The philosophizing really doesn’t work for the film, though Paul Bettany does get to munch on a few decent (though cliched) lines. It aims for some depth like The Prophecy but really comes across as a wannabe with pretensions of intellectuality. It’s a real shame too because there are positively piles of deeply philosophical stories from which this film could easily have cribbed bits of story or at least some lines. Mike Carey’s Lucifer springs immediately to mind with themes of the meaning of rebellion against power simply for the sake of rebellion or the reconciliation of any idea of God with the idea of free will. Anne Rice’s Memnoch The Devil also jumps to mind, with the idea of the devil telling his own side of the story, of an alternate story of the Bible that has all the same events but spun just differently enough to show that the standard conclusions are all wrong. Or Dan Simmon’s brilliant pondering of the Abraham/Isaac story buried in the Hyperion cantos, in which the proper conclusion was not that God was testing Abraham’s obedience but that Abraham was testing God’s worthiness. There is an enormous body of both fiction and philosophy (but I may repeat myself) that delves into and expands Christian mythology and theology in extraordinarily deep ways. This movie is all veneer though and no substance.
Good films work in the quiet moments, this is a film unravels in such moments when you’re spared a moment to apply a brain to the events. When it keeps things moving, it’s entertaining enough though, with some creative sequences early on. The trailer is probably a perfect litmus test for whether it’s worth seeing: if you found the trailer entertaining, the film probably will be too since it’s more of the same. If you rolled your eyes at it, then not so much.
* please note that while it may be vaguely sexist to assume that an omnipotent deity is male, and thus generally begs a “his/her” sort of awkwardness, I feel that it would be more of an insult to women to assume that the moronic conception of God within this film is in any way female. So in light of centuries of chauvinism, us cockslingers will take the fall for this particular drooling deity. You’re welcome.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.