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Friday, May 21, 2010
When an angel loses his wings he picks up a machine gun
"Legion" may not be a great film, but if you wanted to pick one film that was symptomatic of America in the early 21st century, this is it: a movie about angels . . . with machine guns.
Yeah, every other Hollywood movie these days is about exploding fireballs and cool acrobatic ass-kicking — even, sigh, "Alice in Wonderland" — but in a film about angels? It's impossible to overemphasize what a departure this is: From "It's A Wonderful Life" to "What Dreams May Come" and "Angels in the Outfield" to "City of Angels," angels have always been benevolent figures who offer compassion and guidance. (The sole exception being Christopher Walken in 1995's "The Prophecy.") "Legion" is the first time angels have come to Earth to coach humans in how to lock 'n' load automatic weapons, or slash people open with their razor-sharp wings and chain-saw maces.
"Legion" is a movie about being so sure that you're right that even God is wrong; it's a movie where scripture is forced to fit the message, not the other way around, and where metaphysical questions of mankind's role on Earth and the divine plan are settled through firepower and brute force. Like I said, it's a movie about America in 2010.
The film's story begins in a small, hard-luck diner called "Paradise Falls" on the edge of the Mojave Desert. There we meet a heavily pregnant waitress at the diner named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), the diner's gruff owner Bob (Dennis Quaid) and his son Jeep (Lucas Black), a rather insecure young man who pines after Charlie even though he is not her child's father. Somewhere on the left coast, a fallen angel, Michael (Paul Bettany), cuts off his wings and stocks up on automatic weapons.
When TV, cell-phone and radio reception go out at the diner, they suspect they have a problem; when one customer, a little old lady with a walker, takes a bite out of someone's neck and then goes scuttling up the walls, they know they do. Soon Michael drives up, starts passing out weapons and tells everyone to prepare for the worst. God, he says, has given up on mankind and unleashed a force to exterminate them all, especially Charlie's unborn child, who — for reasons never clearly explained — is mankind's last hope. Michael has chosen to disobey God's orders because he doesn't want to be a "good German," and he's convinced God will eventually see the light, so to speak.
What follows is mostly a zombie-siege movie with angelically possessed humans substituting for the undead. There are a few entertaining sequences, like the huge buildup to the demented ice-cream man who drives up with his out-of-tune jingle playing, or the sweet-looking little mop-top who turns out to be a ravenous killer. But there's a lot of exposition in director Scott Stewart's film, and far too little of it makes much sense.
I mean, just try thinking about the plot for more than half a second: Because mankind has disappointed Him so, mostly because of its constant wars and violence and hatred toward each other, the Lord decides to solve the problem by launching a war to exterminate them all. The Lord works in mysterious ways indeed.
Theologically, things get even more convoluted: Charlie takes the admirably Christian position of refusing to terminate her unwanted pregnancy, whereas it's God Almighty who decides to abort the child, behavior closer to an imperfect, id-driven deity like Zeus. It might also be shocking to many Christians to find Michael cast as the hero in this story; recall that the last angel to be cast out of heaven for refusing the lord's orders was Satan. Interestingly, the devil never gets mentioned in "Legion," with archangel Gabriel taking the role of the heavy; perhaps Old Nick was too busy working on the health-care bill with U.S. President Obama.
The film's blend of religious superstition and firepower fetishism is emblematic enough of where America is at these days, but throw in the fact that it's the survivalists and militias who make it through the apocalypse, and how all the black and the white city-dweller characters die while the simple good ol' boy and his trailer-park, knocked-up girlfriend survive, and you've really got a Palin-approved statement here.