Legion (2010) is a horror flick with some pretensions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, it generally ensures that you can forgive minor grains of sand that could otherwise be irritating. In a truck stop in the Mohave desert a mismatched group of people seem to be gathering by coincidence. There’s the reluctantly pregnant girl Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid) and his son Jeep (Lucas Black) who own the place, Kyle Williams (Tyrese Gibson) who only stops for directions and the use of a phone, Percy Walker (Charles S. Dutton) the short order cook and the Anderson family, Howard (Jon Tenney) and Sandra (Kate Walsh) and their slightly rebellious daughter Audrey (Willa Holland).
When the television stops working and the phones die any seasoned horror movie watcher knows that something bad is coming. The first sign of how bad the bad thing that’s coming really is becomes obvious when the little old lady Gladys (Jeanette Miller) comes though the door with her walker and proceeds to smile beneficently at the gathering before she suddenly takes a bite out of Howard’s neck and then scales the wall like an insect.
Seconds later the extremely soft spoken and together Michael (Paul Bettany) shows up in a stolen police car with an armoury in the trunk and proceeds to proclaim that the end is nigh. Literally.
It turns out that Charlie’s unborn child is the only hope of all of mankind and that Michael is there to make sure that the child survives. The bad things that are coming are sent by God himself to wipe humanity out, a sort of etch-a-sketch approach to what ails the world. The archangel has actually gone against orders and come to our aid. Wave after wave of people possessed by angels attack the diner and decimate the survivors within until finally Michael’s equal, Gabriel (Kevin Durand) comes to put an end to the disobedience. By then Charlie has had the baby, so the morality of the whole thing has changed.
There are many little moments in this movie that really shine. Most of them have Paul Bettany in them. He speaks so softly and so convincingly, and he kicks some righteous behind in a way I, for one, really enjoyed. I’ve not seen him do action like this before, but he certainly has the physical presence for it. Adrianne Palicki gives a very good performance as the big-bellied Charlie, still smoking when she’s nine months pregnant, which is upsetting enough to watch in and of itself. Lucas Black does a very good job of portraying the steadfast Jeep who is actually good enough in his own way that he has managed to help Michael retain his faith in mankind as a whole, and Dennis Quaid is really a spectacularly good down-on-his-luck loser with something like a heart of gold, even when he falls asleep on the job.
All that being said, there is grit in the stew here. The director Scott Charles Stewart started his career in special effects and you can tell. There is a certain emphasis on the effects side of things, a certain love for some of the bad guys, like The Ice Cream Man (Doug Jones), and explosions and weapons and spectacular fight scenes, not that I don’t enjoy that, I do. The problem is, some things feel much too familiar, like the final scene of the movie that any fan of The Terminator will instantly clock on to. You can call that a homage, if you like, it’s certainly too explicit to be incidental. There is also hints and allusions to other general lore, of course, but for some reason the end result is just not more than the sum total of its parts, which is unfortunate. There is a lot of exposition, which allows the actors to shine, each in their own little moment, but which does not add anything to the overall story. It feels disjointed in an odd, rambling way. It also feels like the director/script writer doesn’t trust the audience to believe the motivation driving the characters to act the way they do. The problem is that too much explanation is just as bad as not enough. The pacing is awkward, to say the least. Building suspense is not an easy thing and you really have to keep your finger on the button to be able to create the kind of unease that the waiting between attacks needs to have in order for the viewer to feel unsettled. That never really works here.