Anniversary Review: Legion (2010)

Legion. Directed by: Scott Stewart. Starring: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: January 22, 2010.

Since this is a 10th Anniversary Review, I’ll be discussing some spoilers, but I’ll still include a spoiler warning when I really spoil the plot.  

Frustrated that humans are just generally terrible people, God sends his angels to Earth to bring on the apocalypse. We see the apocalypse start at a roadside dinner in the middle of nowhere. The archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) eventually helps this group of people because the waitress, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), is pregnant with humanity’s last hope.

Legion is just a missed opportunity that doesn’t feel like it has its own identity. At times it’s a serious actioner toeing the horror line, and other times it’s tongue-in-cheek, silly and hilarious all in one. The film’s highlight is a possessed granny, Gladys Foster (Jeanette Miller), who cusses everyone out, goes totally bonkers and starts crawling on the ceiling. I feel like on the film’s 10th Anniversary (well, it was released January 22, 2010, so close enough), this crazy granny is the only thing people remember about this film.

It’s a genuinely freaky moment that is also just hilarious. The whole scene is decent and when Gladys gets killed, the film’s peak dies with her. The cast is an impressive little ensemble even if not everyone has great performances. Dennis Quaid phones it in as the owner of the diner, Bob Hanson, and Lucas Black (of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift fame) is a weak spot here as his son, Jeep Hanson.

Tyrese Gibson is fine, too, but honestly I watched this a week ago and completely forgot he was in this. That’s because the characters just aren’t that memorable, and the only characterization I remember is Jeep wanting to take care of Charlie, even before the apocalypse hits.  The other character work isn’t notable, as the only others of note are a family passing through including Sandra (Kate Walsh), her husband Howard (Jon Tenney) and their daughter Audrey (Willa Holland).

Audrey’s the only one who has anything to do, and Sandra’s just there to be a terrible, terrible character and a nuisance to the story as she blames her daughter for the situation because they stop at this diner because Audrey’s promiscuous and they were moving here (Nevada, I think) because of her. Newsflash, lady, the apocalypse is going on everywhere in the world. But to be fair this apocalypse is so concentrated here because of the baby inside of Charlie. I like Kate Walsh but her character is terribly written and she just brings so many unnecessary moments.

Paul Bettany makes a fine Michael, by the way, but it’s awkward that he never explicitly tells the group that he’s the famous archangel Michael. He’s just a Terminator type sent to help them and everyone takes that at face value because they don’t have a choice. Some of the action scenes of them warding off demons are fine, but they’re often unintentionally hilarious, especially when we meet small child with the deepest voice you’ll ever hear. There are some funny delights – like Doug Jones as the Ice Cream Man whose limbs extend and jaw widens and he starts charging the group. It’s one of the creepier visual moments.

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Doug Jones as the Ice Cream Man in Legion. (IMDb)

The film tries to say a lot about fate and explores a lot of its religious themes in dull ways, largely in conversations between Michael and his brother Gabriel (Kevin Durand). The brotherly rivalry is made boring and is the most disappointing thing about this film. If you haven’t seen this and want to, I’ll pretty much only be talking spoilers from now on as I discuss most of the end of the film.

It’s disappointing to me when you have the potential of a big fight and a fight between two archangels is so pedestrian. Gabriel’s weapon is cool but it’s a boring fight scene. The third act feels like a weak re-shoot. The part that makes me think that is after Michael and Gabriel’s fight when Bob blurts out an action movie one-liner (I can’t remember the line but this film is so cheesy there’s a decent chance it’s “your wings are cooked”) before he blows the diner. Gabriel starts to fly away like he’s about to be blown to smithereens. The concentration on his face is the look of a man that is trying to escape imminent death.

Instead, he catches up with the fleeing Charlie, Jeep and Audrey a minute later completely unscathed. That makes me think they tacked on the escape scene after test screenings because no way Gabriel’s trying to get out of that explosion so quickly if he knew he’d be totally fine.

Eventually, Michael comes back from Heaven, an archangel again with his wings and everything, and then I think “Oh wow, now we’re going to get the memorable archangel fight!” I thought maybe it was trying to make up for the mediocrity of the first fight, but I gave Legion too much credit in that moment. Gabriel just gets angry at Michael – his inferiority complex has been building up too long – and charges at Michael and Michael just slices right through Gabriel.

Gabriel plops on the ground and that’s the end of the fight. It’s kind-of an uneventful smack in the face and the editing here (by Steven Kemper) is just ugly when Michael slices through Gabriel. You barely see it and it’s literally like five quick edits in one second. The non-fight just has the sense of an editor trying to put the finishing touches on a weak film and says, “Sure, that looks fine, I want to go home.” Truthfully, that’s what a lot of Legion feels like.

Score: 30/100

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood. Directed by: Adrian Grunberg. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega. Runtime: 1h 29 min. Released: September 20, 2019.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Rambo: Last Blood” is one heck of a mixed bag. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona, dealing with old age and PTSD and living with his adopted family; his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Rambo’s like a father figure to her.

The first 20 minutes of the film feels like dull melodrama. Rambo shows off the underground tunnels (truly built for an action-packed finale) on his ranch and bonds while horseback riding with Gabriela. Then, Gabriela says she knows her father is living in Mexico and wants to go see him. Rambo and Maria basically say he’s a schmuck, but she goes anyway.

What happens next is basically the plot of Taken but with Rambo. Rambo immediately goes over the border and learns Gabriela has been kidnapped by a Mexican cartel involved in human trafficking led by the Martinez brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who are just awfully stereotypical characters.

The scenes in Mexico feel more like melodrama, especially when Gabriela tries to reconnect with her Dad and he says he never cared about her. It’s an odd scene. A journalist in Mexico, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) is an ally to Rambo and adds exposition for the cartel. She’s not an interesting character – but besides Rambo, none of the characters are great.

It’s also a shallow story you could tell someone about beat-for-beat in less than two minutes. To make matters worse, the first hour is just entirely boring with only a couple of scenes of brutal violence to keep Rambo fans interested.

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Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo: Last Blood.” (IMDb)

I’ve only seen “First Blood” and the 2008 “Rambo,” but the story is so generic it only feels like a Rambo film in name, not in spirit. Any character could lead this film, but Sylvester Stallone is kick-ass in action scenes and mediocre in dramatic scenes. There’s one decent scene that’s believable in terms of emotion, but most of the other emotional aspects of the film don’t ring true.

Even at a compact 89 minutes, “Last Blood” is slow to get going. It feels slower still because I didn’t care about Gabriela’s arc, and she’s the core drive for Rambo. Their chemistry is okay, but the dialogue trying to get her to stay isn’t very strong. A lot of the dialogue feels awkward overall.

The non-stop action of the story doesn’t come until 70 minutes into the film, when Rambo sets up traps in his tunnels before luring the cartel back to his home in Arizona. The last 20 minutes plays out like an R-rated version of “Home Alone” and it’s bloody awesome. It’s gory and brutal and fun in its cartoonish way. It’s like Looney Tunes, but I love Looney Tunes and “Home Alone.Keep in mind, these scenes are a hard so there are no Macaulay Culkin cameos, here.

The shame about this film is that it’s all build-up to an action-packed finale that only lasts 20 minutes. If I could look at movies just for their finales, this would get a recommendation from me because it’s a decent time if you just like brutal action. There’s just too much crap to get through to honestly make it worth it.

Score: 50/100

Hold the Dark (2018)

Released: September 28, 2018. Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier. Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

After the death of three children suspected to be killed by wolves, wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by Medora Sloane (Riley Keogh), the mother of the latest missing boy to track her son down in the Alaskan wilderness, or at the very least kill for the wolves for vengeance.

In “Hold the Dark,” Core takes the job to try and help find the boy and give a family closure. He understands and respects nature, and he’s remorseful about hunting and killing a wolf and writing about it. Medora wants the wolf to suffer. To that, Russell replies: “Natural order doesn’t want revenge.”

As for everyone else, revenge is on all their minds. The only one who wants that more than Medora is her husband Vernon, played with a menacing calm by Alexander Skarsgård. It’s the kind-of blankness that’s unpredictable – he could be emotionally vulnerable one minute, and then just relentless the next. He’s introduced in a memorable fashion on his tour in Iraq (the film is set in 2004).

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Jeffrey Wright in “Hold the Dark” (IMDb).

I thought this might be something like Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” but don’t make that same mistake of thinking that. This is a genre-bending piece in a league of its own in terms of uniqueness. The only real similarities there are the wolves and the frozen tundra, and James Badge Dale. Here, he plays Donald Marium, a city cop in the town of Emery that’s close to Keelut, the small village where the disappearances occurred. He’s like the face for the mainland, and the people in Keelut like to be left alone. Medora thinks of Keelut as truly Alaska, as she says about Anchorage “that city is not Alaska.” Vernon’s friend named Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope) is one of the most memorable characters here as someone with a dislike for outsiders.

The mystery of the film is capable, and twists in the first act really made the screenplay unpredictable. Frankly, some of this was hard to think of what direction it was going in because some of it just went way over my head. Macon Blair’s writing is smart, but the characters are so complex it’s hard to fully understand their psyches and their darkness. But they help paint a cool look at human nature. They are intriguing characters that deal with their grief in their own unique, intense ways, but I had more questions than answers by the end of it all.

The story didn’t completely work for me, but the cinematography (by Magnus Nordenof Jønck) looked great and the performances from everyone are truly top-tier, especially from Jefferey Wright, who captures his character’s loneliness and remorse well.

No matter how strange or bizarre the film becomes, it’s grounded in realism. That’s something I love about Jeremy Saulnier’s style. His films always feature violence that’s brutal and raw (at least with “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”) – and with William Girardi’s dark source material, he has a lot to work with in terms of violence. A mid-film set piece is the film’s best scene, and the carnage in it is bonkers. This is my least favourite film by Saulnier – but that’s not a bad thing.

Score: 65/100

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Released: May 5, 2006. Directed by: J.J. Abrams. Starring: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

I don’t remember a lot of films I saw in theatres when I was a kid but I remember seeing Mission: Impossible III. It might be because this is the first film I remember seeing that started at the mid-way point in the story, when Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fiancé Julia (Michelle Monaghan).

The stakes are immediately the highest they’ve felt in the series, as I never felt like they were consistently high in Mission: Impossible or Mission: Impossible II. This was also the first time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and the sadism of his character is memorable and threatening.

It’s also just a good film in general and not only because of my nostalgia for it. J.J. Abrams directs the action well and the stunts are great, especially when Ethan leaps off a skyscraper in Shanghai onto another one. Anyway, Davian is the most memorable villain of the series upp to this point. Davian’s a sadistic arms dealer after something called the Rabbit’s Foot.

We don’t really know what it is and that vagueness isn’t great. Though, Davian’s willing to pay $875 million for it, so it’s a pretty big deal. Davian’s just interested in power and tormenting Ethan. In the first film, IMF director Kittredge says to find something that’s personally important to Ethan “and squeeze.” A villain finally takes that advice, as evidenced by the film’s opening scene.

The action scenes are good, and the film’s first big set piece of trying to rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), after she went to investigate Davian, sets the film’s events up perfectly. At the beginning of the film, Ethan’s settled down with Julia, played well by Michelle Monaghan, and he’s training IMF agents to be ready for the field instead of being in the field himself. But he trained Farris and that’s one of the reasons that Hunt goes back out in the field. This time, the characters are interesting enough that the very personal conflicts feel well-written.

Tom Cruise also runs a lot more in this one. He has such a great chemistry with Monaghan as Julia, as well as his IMF team including franchise mainstay Ving Rhames as Luther and Maggie Q as Zhen. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a team member named Declan, but he’s easily the most forgettable of all the IMF agents that have come and gone in the franchise.

Score: 80/100

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Released: May 24, 2000. Directed by: John Woo. Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton. Runtime: 2h 3 min.

This review contains a few spoilers.

In Mission: Impossible II, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is rudely called away from his rock-climbing vacation for a new mission. His mission’s in Sydney, Australia where he must destroy a genetically modified disease called the “Chimera.”

For some of the film, skilled thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) is put in the most danger. She’s an ex-girlfriend of main villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a disavowed IMF agent, so she’s called upon to gain his trust. Things get complicated when Ethan also falls for Nyah.

This personal relationship makes it feel like there are more stakes than the first film. It introduces a love triangle dynamic that is interesting from Ethan’s side, but Ambrose is goofy during it. He has an inferiority complex because of the perfect agent Ethan, and he ugly cries when he learns Nyah isn’t loyal to him. I won’t shame guys who cry – I cry at everything – but it’s dumb for this movie.

The writing’s not great, but some dialogue is laughably bad enough to be memorable. Take a gem from Anthony Hopkins’ Mission Commander Swanbeck, for example: “This isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible.” It’s not a bad title for a knockoff film.

Tom Cruise is good again as Ethan, and his long hair looks good as he’s kicking in slow motion. I liked some of the plot itself and the monologue, that’s repeated a few times, about Chimera being the villain and Bellerophon being the hero.

It’s an interesting Greek myth and it’s cool how it’s brought into the story. The story itself doesn’t have a ton of substance other than just trying to destroy a deadly virus, as you can summarize the first hour of the movie about a minute.

Director John Woo tries to distract from that with a lot of slow motion. The entire third act is a lot of Ethan just doing slow-motion kicks. There’s also a whole thing of Ethan shooting a stick bomb to blow in a door and then dramatically walking past the door through the flames, staring at Ambrose.

This silliness made me laugh and was fun, and I think this needed more slow-motion doves. The style of the film in the third act just makes this feel more like a John Woo movie than a Mission: Impossible film. That’s not usually a bad thing – but a lot of this explains why this is considered the weakest of the series.

Score: 50/100

Reviews of other films in the franchise:

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Released: May 22, 1996. Directed by: Brian de Palma. Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart. Runtime: 1h 50 min.

Based on the hit TV show from the 1960s, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tries to clear his name when he’s suspected for disloyalty to the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) after a mission goes wrong and he’s left as the only survivor.

The script’s mediocre as Ethan must deliver the second half of a non-official cover (NOC) list, a list of covert agents in Eastern Europe, to an arms dealer named “Max” to discover the identity of the actual spy. I watched this three days ago and I barely remembered the NOC list. Out of the first three films, Brian de Palma’s direction and style are easily the least forgettable, as well.

The script does have some surprises and the cast helps keep it interesting, especially Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He’s charming and great here and “Mission: Impossible” serves as a solid introduction to Ethan.

For the rest of the cast, I’m sure it was surprising when the film came out in 1996 that Emilio Estevez gets killed off in the first 25 minutes. For me, watching this for the first time in 2018, I was just surprised seeing him in this. Jon Voight’s also good as Jim Phelps – the only character from the original TV series.

It’s interesting seeing who Ethan aligns with to try to clear his name, since he can’t exactly get help from the agency. Claire (Emmanuelle Béart) has a decent chemistry with Ethan, but she’s the most forgettable out of the female leads of the first three films. Luther (Ving Rhames) is great and so is Jean Reno as Krieger.

The film itself though only has a few great action scenes, especially the dangling wire scene – which is so tense and the whole sequence is so entertaining – and the train finale is also great.

Throughout the film, Ethan is trying to evade director of the IMF Eugene Kittredge (Henry Czerny). Kittredge wants Ethan to come to them, saying “You find something that’s personally important to him and you squeeze.” The thing is, he doesn’t execute on this line because it doesn’t feel like Ethan has anything to lose. The stakes for this film simply don’t feel high enough, making the non-action scenes dull.

Score: 65/100

47 Meters Down (2017)

47 Meters Down posterReleased: June 23, 2017. Directed by: Johannes Roberts. Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine. Runtime: 1h 29 min.

Two sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) go to Mexico for a vacation and after meeting a pair of locals, they’re told about going underwater in a cage where they can go face-to-face with 25-foot-great white sharks.

They do just that but when they’re in the water, the boat’s mechanism that holds the cage breaks and the sisters plummet 47 meters down to the ocean’s surface. There, their oxygen starts to run out and sharks circle nearby, and their fight for survival begins.

I watched this when it came out in theatres in June 2017 and I liked it. On second watch, it doesn’t hold up. The characters aren’t interesting. Lisa initially was going on this vacation with her boyfriend Stuart, but he broke up with her because she’s boring. Honestly, I can’t blame the guy.

That’s how Kate gets Lisa in the cage, telling her that she isn’t a boring person if she’s in a shark cage. When Lisa’s anxious the day of, Kate says she won’t make Stuart jealous if she waits in the bathroom.

Lisa’s anxious for good reason. The cage looks rusty and she has no scuba diving experience, so when Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) tells her about her gear, it’s like a foreign language. Before they go down, he tells them, “once you’re down there, you’re not gonna want to come back up.” False, because Lisa wants to come up immediately.

Taylor’s talent is puns – as he named his boat the Sea Esta. Taylor’s mostly a voice presence through the film as Kate repeatedly swims higher to communicate with Taylor, since their cage is out of range for radio contact.

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Claire Holt and Mandy Moore in 47 Meters Down. (IMDb)

Kate is the brave character here as Lisa spends most of the time panicking and telling us how scared she is. I’d be the same way – but you wouldn’t find me in a shark cage. The sisterly chemistry is good and the two leads are charming as thinly written characters. It’s nice watching Lisa overcome her fears in some moments on her fight to be less boring.

Johannes Roberts writes (with Ernest Riera) and directs the film. He delivers strong tension and some thrilling sequences, especially while in the open water. He captures the fear of the characters well in simple scenes of tension like the mechanism that holds the cage breaking. His writing’s also smart and the film is best when the characters are forced outside of the cage. The third act is a lot of fun, too. The ending might frustrate some, but it’s consistent with the story.

Enough about the humans. The sharks usually look fine, but late in the film when we get better looks at the shark, the fact that this was initially meant to be straight-to-DVD explains the quality of the subpar visual effects.

But it just doesn’t serve the film well, as some visual effects shots are so brief it’s hard to tell what happens. The dark cinematography underwater doesn’t help that either, which is a shame because they spend a lot of time underwater. That’s a big thing with 47 Meters Down – it’s good for a straight-to-DVD film as it was produced (on a budget of $5.5 million), but mediocre as a theatrical release.

Score: 65/100