“The Terminator” has found God, and the results are disturbing. In Scott Stewart’s apocalyptic directorial debut, God has it had it with mankind’s BS, and has once again determined to do away with us. Rather than a flood, this time possessed people acting extras from “Night of the Living Dead” are the primary weapon.
The movie opens with LA in the rain, which may have been a prescient creative choice, given current west coast weather conditions. Paul Bettany (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander,” “The Da Vinci Code”) falls from the heavens, with wounds on his shoulders as if wings have been recently, violently removed. Like Michael Biehn in “The Terminator,” he promptly has a run-in with the police and steals an arsenal of weapons.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Mojave Desert, Charlie (Adrianne Palecki of “Friday Night Lights” and “Supernatural”), a very pregnant young waitress is getting ready for work. She lives with and is protected by the improbably named Jeep (Lucas Black), who is not the father of her baby and is madly in love with her anyway. If that scenario doesn’t ring a bell, the Christmas lights on the diner they both work at, “Paradise Falls,” might provide an additional clue.
A swarm of locusts menaces Dennis Quaid in “Legion” Photo: Screen Gems (c) 2010
A mixed bag of strangers are assembled at the diner, including its owners, Jeep’s father Bob, played by an almost unrecognizable Dennis Quaid, and his partner Percy (Charles S. Dutton), a suburban family (Jay Tenney, “Private Practice’s” Kate Walsh and Willa Holland) waiting impatiently for car repairs, and Tyrese Gibson as a man on a way to a custody hearing, as the TV, radio and phones stop working. It’s a “Twilight Zone” version of “Bus Stop.” A chatty, elderly lady (Jeannette Miller) comes in and all hell breaks loose.
Bettany arrives at the diner in a stolen police car with a trunkful of weapons and calmly tells them Charlie’s unborn baby is in danger, no longer a surprise after the chatty, elderly started swearing like a drunken sailor, climbed on the ceiling and tried to eat diners alive.
God is the bad guy in this movie, and frankly, he’s portrayed as a capricious, cruel and vengeful bully. That’s either going to turn you right off or play right into your worst existential nightmares. There’s a lot of talk about faith, but it’s faith in the resiliency and innate decency of people. How much faith do you want to put in a supreme being who’s trying to wipe you off the map?
Despite the apocalyptic overtones, this is not rooted in the Book of Revelation. There are very few plot elements with any real Biblical basis. Bettany, who’s playing the archangel Michael, is the rebellious brother of the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand), who’s the “good son.” There are clear parallels to the parable of the prodigal son, but that and an odd reference or two to Noah’s Flood are as close to the Bible as we get. (Interestingly, there no references to the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, despite plot elements and dialogue that parallel it.)
Scott Stewart directs Jeannette Miller on set of “Legion” Photo: Screen Gems (c) 2010
Stewart has a background in special effects, and his own company, The Orphanage, did some of the effects for this extremely technically impressive film. This is, nonetheless, a modestly budgeted film and frankly, it’s at its most impressive when it’s taking the less-is-more approach. We do eventually get to see angels with wings, and that has less impact than it might. Worrying, with the characters, about unseen terrors out there in the desert at night, is when the movie is at its best.
The scenes where the characters are under siege from the possessed goonies are right out of “Night of the Living Dead,” and they’re scary, if familiar. Familiar as well are the nods, intentional or not, to “The Terminator,” right from its Sarah Connor-ish heroine to the frequent shots of oncoming desert highway. The bandana at the end of the movie even looks a little familiar.
The movie is well-crafted. The photography in early scenes does evoke the paintings of Edward Hopper, less so as the movie moves along, and the color steadily fades. The action and mayhem are well-staged. The movie is deliberately designed to work more as a thrill ride towards the end, and Gabriel’s relentless attacks also evoke “The Terminator.” The door is left open for a sequel and a franchise is possible.
The movie is rated R for pervasive violence, adult language and startling imagery. There are big guys with wings in this movie, as with the weekend’s other opening, “Tooth Fairy.” There all resemblance ends. If you take young children to “Legion,” you deserve to sit up all night with them explaining that angels aren’t really out to kill them.
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