Ten thoughts about Legion.

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.)

Sixth thought: There is, one must admit, some sort of basis in the Old Testament for a characterization of God as one who gives up on people and prepares to wipe them out, but can possibly be persuaded to change his mind (or, if you prefer, to un-change his mind). The movie refers to the example of the Flood, and I would also point to Exodus 32, where God threatens to wipe out the Israelites after they have worshipped the Golden Calf; Moses quickly persuades him to let the Israelites live (well, most of them, anyway), partly on the basis that it might harm his reputation among the pagans if he were to kill the Israelites so soon after saving them from the Egyptians.

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?

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18293658542211510275 Gaffney

    Makes you wonder why they used angels at all if they were going to ignore any angel "lore?"

    As to the "where's the devil" question, THE PROPHECY had a great angle, as I recall. Gabriel is starting a second rebellion – and Lucifer actual sides with heaven. Basically because he doesn't want the competition. Like a gang siding with the police against a rival gang.

    Much more interesting than what LEGION seems to be doi… wait, correction — what LEGION seems NOT to be doing.

  • http://www.professorwhimsey.com victor

    Thank you for this post. "Legion" sounds to be pretty much like I'd assumed: a crap-sandwich of bad writing and even worse theology.

    For a much better (if not entirely theologically sound, at least vastly more-so) take on this theme, watch the last year or two of CW's "Supernatural", in which a group (the majority, actually) of "good" angels, unable to find God anymore and tired of losing so many battles to Lucifer and the demons, decide to force THE apocalpyse into being (by manipulating the show's protagonists into unknowingly breaking a series of seals put in place to prevent the apocalypse).

    There's no mention of a second coming, but there is constant talk of a showdown between Lucifer (deliciously played — for the moment anyway — by "LOST"'s Mark Pellegrino, another actor with strong Christian leanings) and Michael (yet to be embodied — here the angels, as the demons, need human hosts, but the angels will only take on a human host if he or she is devout and gives their consent). There is one angel left searching for God (and aiding the protagonists) and that character, Castiel, is the source of some of the best lines (and funniest situations — the scenes in a recent "possible future" episode where Misha Collins loses his angelic mojo are priceless) on television in recent memory.

    The point is, playing fast and loose with theology can be done, and can be done respectfully, if the writing and characters are solid (and especially if a master like Ben Edlund ("The Tick") is at the helm).

  • Anonymous

    Hollywood supernatural thrillers are no fun because the writers feel free to make it up as they go along. To engage the viewer, a story must develop within a framework of rules known to the viewer. A supernatural thriller must either tap into an existing spiritual cosmology or else communicate a new one to the audience in the first 10 minutes and then it must stick to it. This movie sounds like it isn't even aware of the need to do that.

  • Anonymous

    The archangle Michael going against God? Come on. Legion makes God look like a big tyrant who doesn't care about his own creations, both angels and humans. Plus there's that little thing in the Bible that says God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, and yet the movie makes it seem as though God is fallible and corrupt. Angels aren't beings of flesh and blood like humans; they are spiritual beings, and they are holy. The movie gives both God and the angels too many human characteristics. The creators and directors of Legion know as much about the Bible and God as I know about microeconomics.

  • Anonymous

    I say, irregardless of my personal experiences with theology, myth and legend or experience with supernatural-themed films— it was like some dork smoked a little too much hoohaa, and pulled out random bits of myth THEN smashed them into paella.

    And not the paella your mother makes— some pseudo-contemporary dish that makes you ask "where's the butta?".

    damn it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06198513245505926251 Denise

    This movie was so bad it upset me. It wasn't bad theology, it was no theology. Decent cast, horrific writing.
    The heads up on them blowing the place up by mentioning the gas still being on was LAME, just like the rest of the movie. If the "people" were so powerful when the angles took them over why didn't they just LEGION up and blow up the paradise falls? Why would the angles need to take over human bodies? If there was a reason, it should have been explained. Well, I will stop my rant because it would never end.


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