God's not happy—and after seeing Legion, neither are we

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

What if God turned his back on us? If members of the Jewish faith found that they were no longer the chosen people, if the salvation of the Christians no longer applied, if the gates to paradise were barred to the Muslims. All covenants broken, all prophecy transformed into lies. The theological implications would be staggering! So staggering you couldn't possibly make a movie out of it. Unfortunately, Legion doesn't even try to be that movie.

Instead, there's a diner, a shoot-'em-up, a few horror-film set pieces you've seen a million times before, and the only thing the one-word-description characters—slut, gangbanger, angel, everyman, snoot—don't talk about is what the hell is actually happening with God.

Paul Bettany plays archangel Michael (name pronounced the way a 21st-century American would do it), who has defied his "orders" from God and lands in Los Angeles. In an alley, he cuts off his wings for no reason and then kicks down a door to gain entry to a toy warehouse. There he stitches himself up (huh?), collects a bunch of machine guns (what??) and then blows a hole through the back wall (!!!)—I suppose to make sure that a couple of cops find him. Things go downhill from there.

Michael's plan is to get to a place called Paradise Falls near the Mojave Desert and protect a very pregnant woman named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki, who can't act) from a variety of tedious supernatural threats. Also at the diner is Charlie's boyfriend Jeep (Lucas Black, who can't act but barely has any lines)—who is not the father of Charlie's baby!—and a couple of real actors in Dennis Quaid as Jeep's father, Bob, and Charles Dutton as the one-handed disabled veteran (there's a loving close-up of his dog tags) cook Percy. Both Quaid and Dutton are utterly wasted. Rounding out the diner patrons: slut, snoot, gangbanger. Luckily, Michael brought enough guns for everyone.

The central conflict here is that God has lost his faith in humanity. Legion is the sort of movie where this is considered clever. See, usually it's humans who lose their faith in God. It's, like, an ironic reversal or something. Indeed, sitting through Legion one wonders if the high concept of angels being sent to Earth to possess the bodies of weak-willed humans was just a matter of global find/replace. Find what: Demons. Replace with: Angels. Somewhere in Hollywood a script doctor is laughing so hard he just now suffered a heart attack and is burning in hell. (There's that irony again.)

God is especially interested in killing Charlie's baby before it is born, for reasons so obscure nobody bothers to ask what they might be. To that end, there is a plague of flies that suddenly vanishes, then a possessed ice cream man (Doug Jones, who remains very tall) with spiderlike limbs, and then a bunch of the usual extras one gets in crowd scenes: old people, spooky kids, punk rockers, that sort of thing. They march like slow zombies toward the diner and get gunned down. Later, some of them run like fast zombies. They are also gunned down. There's an explosion.

Unfortunately for the magical angels and the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God, there are no local National Guardsmen with keys to a tank and a sufficiently weak will. Nor any trucker with a tanker full of gasoline. Nor anyone with a gun. Nor anyone with the ability to suggest to his fellow possession victims, "Hey, let's stop at the gun shop. We're in friggin' Arizona. We're going to pass a dozen of them on the way to the diner anyway ..." There aren't even any legions in Legion.

Despite his best efforts, director Scott Stewart, who co-founded the Orphanage visual effects studio, cannot fill an entire 100-minute film with gunplay and Troma-level makeup effects. So much of Legion's second act is taken up with "character-building" scenes. The screenwriters are apparently incapable of writing a dialogue-heavy scene with three or more people, so everyone pairs off. The gangbanger tells the slut to be a good girl. The snoot tells the slut that the mess they're in is all the slut's fault. The angel tells Jeep that he's really impressed with Jeep's co-dependent relationships with Charlie and Bob. This is why Michael defied God to protect humanity. Michael also explains that God is upset that people kill one another for believing the wrong religion ... like we humans made up that idea ourselves. The slut doesn't even get possessed and take off her clothes to try to seduce Jeep into killing Charlie—I believe that's the one cliché missed in a film that is otherwise a bingo card full of them.

Finally, after some bassoons start playing and the demonic (replace with: angelic) chorus starts up, there's an angel fight! They fight by swinging around their wings real fast. Sort of like a food processor with the plastic cover off. As it turns out, angels look like male strippers playing Cupid on Valentine's Day! Also, angel wings are bulletproof! If you've ever seen a movie, I don't have to tell you know how Legion ends—everything is fine, except for all the dead characters.

Legion's last moments are identical to its first: with a voice-over from Charlie, whose inner thoughts we heard nothing of at any other point in the film. She explains that her mother believed that one day God would grow to despise humanity, and she explained to Charlie that it would be because God just "got tired of all the bullsh-t."

Jesus Christ, that makes two of us.

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