Review: Legion

*1/2 out of four stars

What if H. G. Wells’ epic tale “War of the Worlds” was told through the eyes of some people in a diner in the middle of nowhere? It works with zombie movies, right? Have an enclosed location with no one around for miles and hoards of monsters clawing at the door. It’s a good premise for that genre. But when god declares war on all of humanity and sends an army of angels after us, the story would benefit from a bigger picture.

God is pissed. Big time. He sees no hope in the human race and thus unleashes his wrath on everyone… or at least, unleashes it on a small diner on a desert highway with a few people ripped from movies with settings like these. There’s the pissed off owner, his son Jeep, the pregnant girl Jeep is taking care of (who is also the waitress), the old black guy who’s long-time friends with the pissed off owner and graduated head of his class in Morgan Freeman 101 (played by none other than Charles S. Dutton), not to mention the four people stranded there.

Then there’s Michael… as in the angel Michael, who is the last believer in humanity. He decides to protect the tired clichés from the angels, who have taken over human bodies and are now walking around like zombies (they’re even biting people).

Ok, so the monsters in the film are humans with angels inside of them. Shouldn’t they be impervious to bullets? There is so much slaughter by gunfire in this movie I wasn’t sure if I was watching a movie or someone playing a video game. And once the zombie-angels are shot, down they go, never to return. How convenient!

The star of the film is Paul Bettany (“Iron Man,” “The Young Victoria”), an actor I’ve seen plenty of and honestly can’t remember at all. “Legion” explains why. His delivery in this film is monotone, unemotional and dull. Those are all synonyms, but I had to say it that way so that you got the idea. Watching Bettany’s performance, I’m reminded of a young Dolph Lundgren (“Rocky IV,” “Universal Soldier”). Bettany walks through the film trying to play the calm and collected superhero, but comes off sleepy and bored. A bad-ass always needs some kind of charisma. Check out Travolta in “From Paris With Love” in a couple weeks. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Visual effects guru Scott Stewart (whose company The Orphanage did effects for many films including “Sin City,” “Superman Returns,” and “Iron Man”) directs his first feature film here and has received plenty of positive buzz. From a stylistic standpoint, the film looks about mediocre, but the story and screenplay, co-written by Stewart, are predictable and silly at times.

The story in general simply doesn’t work. I’m reminded of “Starship Troopers 2,” the direct-to-DVD sequel to the hugely underrated 1997 classic. In it, there is an interstellar war, spanning several solar systems, between humans and giant spiders. Needless to say, there is a lot happening in that story. The sequel’s director, Phil Tippet (also an effects guru), had not much to work with money-wise. So he told the story from the viewpoint of a squad of human soldiers marooned in an outpost on a bug planet. The film was awful for that very reason. Why take a huge premise, in “Legion’s” case a war between god and humanity, and only deliver a miniscule perspective?

Ummm… perhaps a small budget. I looked for but couldn’t find “Legion’s” cost. I’m guessing it wasn’t very much. So that makes shooting easier and cheaper when you are shooting at one location, a diner in the middle of the desert for example. The problem is, the end of the world on a biblical level needs to be seen from a lot more than just Alice’s Restaurant. For proof, check out Roland Emmerich’s filmography (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”). Thing is, Emmerich has a budget. Scott Stewart doesn’t.

Where am I going with this? I think Mr. Stewart needed to take his smaller budget and tell a smaller story, something that felt more original, but didn’t have to rely on big effects, an epic setting, or great cinematography. An ensemble cast is a good idea. But putting them all on the uninteresting side of an epic war to end all wars is a step in the wrong direction.

Finally, there is a film (low-budget as well) starring Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas and Viggo Mortensen about a similar biblical war that should not be missed by anyone even remotely interested in “Legion.” It’s called “The Prophecy.” It’s action-packed, funny and well-written. “Legion” is not.

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