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.

Legion article

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

Transcendence (2014)

TranscendenceReleased: April 18, 2014. Directed by: Wally Pfister. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany. Runtime: 119 min.

Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, Transcendence, uses the character of Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) to introduce an interesting concept. Transcendence is the idea of an artificial intelligence that would be smarter than any person to ever live, transcending the ability of the human mind. It starts out with an artificial intelligence called PINN, and eventually leads to Caster’s consciousness being uploaded to the motherboard after an attempted assassination by a radical luddite. He doesn’t die at the scene, but the bullet, laced with a poison that causes radiation in the bloodstream, slowly kills him. When A.I. Will wants to expand his network and gain more power, it becomes threatening to humanity.

I think artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject in the realm of cinema. Of course, I wouldn’t want it to happen in real-life – at least something to this extent, that could turn into a real-life, high-tech horror story. Artificial intelligence does seem like a distinct possibility. The film proposes an idea that technology should assist us, not control us. It’s a true fact that we knew prior to this film. Everyone’s seen enough technology-is-evil movies to know that this should never happen, or probably ever will. The film’s idea of transcendence is a cool way to live past your physical body. Of course, in order for you not to gain too much power – you should be limited to one or two computers, certainly not entire networks. Otherwise, you’re just being selfish. If computers do rise up I hope those power-hungry f!#ks make sure Paglen doesn’t write another movie because he is way too vague with his ideas; more on that later. (Or at least his next screenplay gets analyzed for logic.)

In this film, the created A.I. can advance medical technology, and make any water safe to drink. I’d personally drink from a pond first before something like the Ganges River before taking the computer’s word for it. The A.I. can make the other world a better place in other ways, too. Ways it explains this and how it might happen is highly illogical and doesn’t make much sense – that’s mostly for how it makes water safer to drink. Some ways it advances medical technology goes against God’s will, which is thought-provoking. Other things that Caster proceeds to do once he’s getting power is something that I won’t spoil – but I’ll say that it borders on silly.

Jack Paglen’s writing ability is lacking. He decides to merely lay a bunch of ideas up so viewers can personally decide where they stand on it all. The themes of the film are largely at their most basic stages of development, where Paglen offers ideas that he doesn’t flesh out. This is what prevents the film from being engaging or compelling. Instead, it’s a true bore that will make you have heavy eyelids early on. The only excitement that comes in this so-called sci-fi thriller come in the last twenty-five minutes, but by that time you simply won’t give a shit.

The characters and performances are forgettable, and they each feel like villains at some point. Depp portrays his anti-hero/villain with subtlety. It’s a good thing he looks like his normal self as the computer, and not the bald and sunken version. Hall’s Evelyn Caster is caught between her love and faith for her husband, and the human side. The film does have a cool premise where the human mind mashes with technology and turns out to be a story where they’re both monsters. It seems like it could be a different technology-is-evil film, but soon goes back into a humans vs. technology comfort zone. Paul Bettany portrays friend of the Casters, who sports the idea that the artificial intelligence really isn’t Will. Bettany on the human side is a funny contrast to him playing an actual technological invention, Jarvis in the Iron Man films.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy’s roles aren’t compelling. Murphy’s character is too generic to even pass the name test. He’s known as Agent Buchanan. There’s a creative choice with Freeman that’s strange. Freeman is in voice-over mode randomly because his character is reading a letter that he read to Evelyn, but not to Evelyn, to the audience. Even though he’s actually with Evelyn during the short scene. It saves time… I guess? But both Murphy and Freeman, who are usually phenomenal presences, are just kinda there – popping up for short periods throughout.

Against Caster’s wishes is a neo-Luddite terrorist group called RIFT, led by bleach-blonde Bree (Kate Mara). She’s not very intimidating as the antagonist to Will’s wishes, but she’s never really called to be. Mara’s pretty okay as the character. I think the hypocrisy of luddites (those against the advancement of technology) in this film is absolutely hilarious. When some are getting busted, one of them is using a laptop. They also set a bomb at one point — that requires all sorts of technology, especially the timer and the detonator. These guys really make don’t make much sense.

Transcendence feels too much like a love story at times, as it explores a woman’s need to have her husband around in computer form. Hall is convincing as Evelyn. The love story aspect might not be that appealing to those simply expecting a good, high-concept suspense drama. There’s little suspense in this however; perhaps because we’ve seen this sort-of film too many times, and Paglen’s story doesn’t allow Pfister to be good at tension building. Due to the film’s familiarity, this film is void of worthwhile surprises. The film’s stunning, at least. It has the scope and usual cast members of Christopher Nolan’s films, as Pfister is his usual cinematographer. Pfister’s film just lacks all the greatness of a Nolan film, mostly because of the story that packs no energetic punch. More of the blame for this disappointing film should be on the writer, in this situation. 

Score: 50/100