What a mess this movie is. When I first heard the premise two years ago, it raised certain questions for me — questions that I raised here and elsewhere — and I was curious to see how the movie would answer them. Well, in a nutshell, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even raise them. In a few cases, it even ignores the basis on which I asked them.
First thought: How can anyone make a movie about a rebel angel — in this case, Michael, who turns against God and his fellow angels to protect humanity after God decides to wipe us out — and not bother to make even a passing reference to Lucifer? Y’know, even just a line of dialogue to the effect that “This has happened before, but for a different reason”, or something like that?
Now, what would have been really daring would have been if they had featured a scene in which Lucifer showed up and offered to team up with Michael against God — not because Lucifer has any interest in saving humanity, per se, but simply because Lucifer wants to stick it to the Big Guy — and then you could throw in a few extra complications down the road as Lucifer tries to stab Michael in the back, too. I mean, c’mon, there’s a rich back-story here, and if they’re going to play around with it and subvert it in some way, the least they could do is demonstrate some familiarity with it and, I dunno, make it interesting.
Think about it. Not only would Lucifer want to oppose God just for the sake of opposing God, but Lucifer, I think, would also want to guarantee that humanity survives on some level, if only so that he can torment humanity. So he and Michael could have forged an interesting alliance, kind of like how the democracies under Churchill and Roosevelt teamed up with Stalin’s totalitarianism to defeat Hitler; there would always be this question hanging over their alliance, regarding what the allies might do to each other if and when they win the current battle.
And just think, the humans fighting alongside Michael might have had to decide whether to team up with Lucifer, knowing that he intended to do them harm once he had helped to ensure their survival. If Milton’s Satan could say that it was better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven, perhaps these humans could have decided it was better to suffer and live in the world as it is (under Satan’s influence) than to be wiped out entirely (under God’s orders).
I’m not a big fan of this movie’s premise, but now that it’s out there, the simple fact is that there are so many things that could have been done with it which this movie simply doesn’t do. Doesn’t even think of doing.
Second thought: Where the heck is the “legion” referred to in the movie’s title? We only get a good look at two of the angels: Michael and Gabriel. We hear about others, but they seem to do all their work through the human beings that they possess. (Note: these are angels, not demons, possessing the human beings. Just as there is no Lucifer in this film, so too there are no demons.) So Michael, who is rebelling against God because he believes in humanity even when God doesn’t, spends a lot of the movie killing human beings that have been assimilated by the heavenly collective — but with the exception of Gabriel, none of the other angels are even remotely put in harm’s way. What cowards.
Third thought: Are we supposed to believe that angels are just like human beings, except for the wings? Pretty much the very first scene shows Michael landing on Earth and cutting off his wings. He then goes into a bathroom and reaches inside the cabinet for a first-aid kit. And I immediately wondered if angelic anatomy and/or physiology was really all that similar to ours. (Does their blood clot the same way ours does? Etc., etc., etc.)
Fourth thought: There’s an obvious Mary-and-Joseph thing going on here, with the pregnant woman whose child is the ultimate hope for humanity, and the man who pines for the woman and is prepared to help her look after the baby even though it isn’t his. I confess I even got a kick out of the fact that, the first time we see the woman, she sits down wearing a red blanket over her blue whatever (thus echoing the traditional colour scheme in icons of the Theotokos, where blue symbolizes Mary’s humanity and red symbolizes her divinization; compare that to traditional icons of Jesus, who wears blue over red, symbolizing the humanation of his divinity).
But c’mon. Why is God trying to wipe out humanity only eight months after this child was conceived? Is this child the Son of God? If so, why is God suddenly pulling the plug? If not, then why does the child matter in the first place? (Side note: The movie never says who the child’s father is, but there is, shall we say, no indication that the mother is a virgin. And no indication that there was any sort of annunciation. Though the man who pines for the woman does admit to being kept awake by “dreams” he’s been having lately…)
And that’s another thing: Is this supposed to be the First Coming or the Second Coming? The director has reportedly said that this film acts as though the New Testament never happened. But if that’s the case, why do the characters use words like “Christ” as a curse-word? How did that word get into their language? (It’s kind of like how The Invention of Lying depicts a world in which no one has ever believed in God or religion, but they still say they live in the “21st century” or whatever even though they have presumably never believed in Christ, without whom we wouldn’t have a division between B.C. and A.D. in the first place.)
But here’s the thing: in both of those examples, God always makes room for a remnant; when he sent the Flood, he saved Noah and his family, and when he threatened to destroy the Israelites, he promised to make Moses into a “great nation” in their place (so, strictly speaking, God wouldn’t have been destroying all of the Israelites; he just would have been doing a lot, lot, lot of pruning). But there is no such allowance for a remnant in the scenario envisioned by this film.
Seventh thought: This movie seems to draw a weird kind of parallel between God and the government. Suffice it to say that we hear talk of “militias” that have begun to fight back against the angels. Between that and the fact that this movie’s very premise is bound to offend a lot of conservatives, it would seem that the movie’s politico-cultural sensibilities are kind of all over the place.
Eighth thought: What exactly does “death” entail in the world of this movie? Is there an afterlife? If so, what is it like? Is it possible for angels to “die”, with or without their wings, and if so, what happens to them when they do? (This, obviously, connects to my earlier question re: the physiology and anatomy of angels, and how closely it resembles that of humans.) If we’re dealing with ultimate supernatural issues here, then I’d like to get a better handle on what the stakes are. Is the soul merely annihilated at death, or does it continue in some form? Etc., etc., etc.
Ninth thought: In a similar vein, I’d like to know what an angel’s powers are. It’s hard to get a handle on Michael, because he cuts his wings off at the beginning and seems, for all intents and purposes, to be just another human from that point on. But what about Gabriel? He swings a giant mace around, but if he didn’t have a tool in his hand, what would he be capable of? If angels can possess people, then what else can they do? Read minds? Make things levitate? Use the Force? I’d like to think that there is something more to being an angel than simply being able to fly and lift heavy objects. (Yes, they can apparently possess people, too, but I don’t believe we ever see Gabriel or Michael do the possessing, so it’s unclear just how an angel does that sort of thing; do they do it with nothing more than their minds, or do they need some sort of object/device to get inside someone’s head? Just where are the angels when all this possessing is going on, and what are they doing, exactly?)
Tenth thought: Why are some people possessed but other people never possessed? There is a throwaway line of dialogue to the effect that angels can possess people who are weak-minded or weak-willed — I forget the exact term — but my friend and I agreed that some of the characters who never get possessed don’t seem particularly strong in the mind/will department. So that throwaway line of dialogue only went so far, for us.
Bonus thought: Legion has a lot in common with some of the other movies showing at the multiplex right now. Like The Book of Eli, it has strong religious and/or apocalyptic elements. Like Avatar, it features a warrior who turns against his boss and his former colleagues to save the natives of some planet or other. Like Creation, it stars Paul Bettany as someone who parts ways with God partly because of the impending death of a child. Like Tooth Fairy, it features a protagonist who has wings, at least some of the time. And like A Single Man, it features a woman named Charlie (or Charley).
Truly, I ask you, has any single movie ever brought together so many other contemporaneous movies at the same time?