Legion: A Movie Review Essay
Legion: 2010 Film Starring Paul Bettany
My purpose is not to offer an exhaustive review here, because the film has already surely been exhaustively reviewed and broadly panned, since the movie was released nine years ago.
What I want to do here is, very briefly, outline an approach to the material that would have made for a much stronger film, in my opinion.
As you know, the film stars Paul Bettany as an angel, who has bucked the system in Heaven in order to stand with humanity, against a wrathful, punishing God-ordered, angelic possession — in which the invasive consciousness of angels turn human beings into bestial, supernatural, super-strong, super-fast killing machines.
God is doing this because, blah, blah, blah… The Lord “no longer believes in” humankind, and so forth.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
Believe it or not, that piece of information I just gave you, is not a spoiler. You see, that information is just given away, by Paul Bettany, soon after he arrives at the desert diner.
You see, Paul Bettany shows up at the diner, with a bunch of un-possessed humans, to shoot at approaching, murderously-intentioned, angelically possessed.
Oh yeah, one of the people he shows up to fight with, is a young woman pregnant with the… uh… uh… CHOSEN ONE, who is destined to save… blah, blah, blah… you get the idea.
To Serve Man
The reason this film failed artistically, in my view, is because is was not structured properly.
The fact that God is unleashing a genocidal invasion upon humankind, through his agents, the angels, is information that should have been withheld until the big reveal at the end of the movie.
This revelation should have culminated in a collective, thoroughly overwhelming “Oh sh–!” moment, as the understanding sinks in that “To Serve Man,” is actually, in fact, a cookbook!
Once this crushing realization hits home, the movie should have ended.
And most importantly, no sequel(s), because God, presumably, cannot be beaten.
Accept a Film’s Universe
Now, I am aware of a lot of criticism of the film, online, which, from the outset, attacks the impracticality of God’s human annihilation plan. Why not fling the Earth into the sun? Why not engulf the world in a supernova?
And so on and so forth, along those lines.
I usually accept a film’s universe, as long as it follows its own rules. Also, with a little thought, it is possible to ascribe something like the following motivation to God for seeking to destroy humanity through angelic invasion: Perhaps he just wants to prolong the agony. Perhaps God, in His wrath, has turned a bit sadistic. Perhaps He wants humanity to suffer in a prolonged way, as His son, Jesus, presumably suffered on the Cross, in a prolonged way, for our “sins.”
I usually have no problem accepting a film’s universe. The one, rare exception that I can recall is M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film, “The Village.” This was a film that made me so angry that, had I the strength, I would have torn down the theater, brick by brick, with my bare hands.
But that is neither here nor there. I usually accept a movie’s universe. For me, then, there is nothing wrong with the way God chooses to annihilate humankind.
The Proper Flow
What I want to do now, to conclude this essay, is provide a very rough and very brief sketch about how a stronger film with the premise of Legion, would play out.
Paul Bettany should have played the Devil, who comes to help a select group of non-possessed humans at the diner, or wherever. But of course, we should not know that Bettany is the Devil until the very end.
There should be no “Chosen” child destined to save everybody. That kind of thing is always done.
There should be a “hot shot” Catholic priest exorcism expert. He should be the Michael Jordan of exorcists — an exorcist’s exorcist. When even the best exorcists fail, he doesn’t!
This guy can banish the most intransigent, powerful demons in his sleep… between his legs… behind his back….
Anyway, somehow our exorcist meets Paul Bettany and his ragtag band of fighters. He starts to hit some exorcisms that are unusually difficult for him. Perhaps one or two that he is unable to banish.
What’s going on? he thinks to himself. Is his faith not strong enough?… yada, yada, yada…
Maybe Paul Bettany, at some point, had the priest a futuristic-looking, sawed-off shotgun, with a remark, something like: “The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it sure is a lot harder to kill things with the former than the latter.”
Or perhaps something more ominous and foreshadowing like: “You gotta talk to them in a language they truly understand, priest.”
Wrapping This Up
At some point informants should come forward, claiming to have knowledge that will lead to relics, which will lead to other relics, that, when combined will… somehow help our heroes avert disaster, and thus save the Earth and humankind. But they should really be “double agents,” as it were, really working for the enraged God.
There should be half-forgotten legends.
There should be puzzles.
There should be ancient lore.
Let’s throw in a prediction Nostradamus or two.
There should be deep, dark revelations about the hot shot exorcist priest that, when brought to light, might call into question his faith or holy worthiness.
These plates should be spun and spun and spun until that big moment of revelation, that “Holy S—!” moment, when everyone realizes that (“To Serve Man… its a cookbook!”)
And then, in the moment dramatically potent way possible, Paul Bettany reveals to the priest that the reason that some of his exorcisms have failed is because…
“They are not possessed by demons, father. They are possessed by angels; and there is no appeal to your ‘God’ for help. For it is He that sent them.”
And then Paul Bettany slowly reveals his true identity — that of the Devil.
And so on and so forth. Et cetera, et cetera…
Hold on the groups’ astonishment just long enough to be sure that the full catastrophic truth has sunk in.
Then fade to black.
By the way, what is the Devil’s motivation for trying to help?
He and God has played this “game” with the humans for ages. Its been great fun. For centuries, the Devil has been winning — and winning big! Lucifer doesn’t think its fair for God to “pick up his ball and go home” like this.
Last Word: I believe that Hollywood’s obsession with the good old American can-do, heroic/happy ending, resulted in a silly (but not in a fun way) film, that might as well have been adapted from a video game, hardly worthy of the major theatrical release it got.
Thank you for reading!