Ever wonder why so many movies these days begin with the end of the world? I'm not asking this because I'm spooked about the end of time or worried about our national psyche, although disturbing phenomena like peak oil, world financial meltdowns, and the New Orleans Saints' first Super Bowl appearance might be early signs of the apocalypse. I'm more interested in what stylistic or thematic traits recent doomsday pictures such as The Road, The Book of Eli, and 2012 have in common.
But, after seeing those films, it's become clear that style and theme aren't very important. Indeed, the recent over-reliance on Armageddon as a dramatic trope is mostly used to justify pseudo-spirituality, poorly choreographed action mayhem, and ultra-simple, barely human characterizations.
Consider Legion, which stars Dogville's Paul Bettany as the renegade angel Michael, who has abandoned heaven and landed on earth to fight on the side of humanity against God's army, which has been sent to destroy mankind because He is, as the opening (and closing) voiceover points out, "Tired of all the bullshit."
Once he shears off his wings, Michael raids an Asian weapons cache in Los Angeles, loads up on guns and ammo, commandeers a squad car, and races out to a remote roadside diner where the future of the human race is being unwittingly and carelessly carried by Charlie, a surly, pregnant waitress (Adrianne Palicki, as luminous as a blue-collar Eva Mendes).
At first, this ridiculous premise — part Terminator, part Left Behind: The Movie — shows some promise. The image of a trenchcoated Michael with two duffel bags full of ordnance is both a big walking cartoon metaphor for the "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" strain of Christianity and a nice contrast to the brief, flickering image of Clarence the angel from It's a Wonderful Life that's glimpsed on the diner's TV.
The first pestilence sent by the Almighty arrives in the form of an 80-year-old woman with a walker — and an incredibly foul mouth. And both crusty diner owner Dennis Quaid and gun-totin' family man Tyrese Gibson get to spout plot summaries and angry commands such as, "Let me see them teeth!"
By concentrating on the angels' siege on the diner, its staff, and its stray customers, the film establishes an almost classical unity of time and place quickly and effectively. This might have been cool if all the characters, when they aren't cowering in panic or shooting angel-possessed regular folks, didn't speak to each other in mawkish, hackneyed sermons about big moments in their lives. The Last Judgment is no place for idle chitchat, people!
The film's silly sledgehammer gore is compounded by its addiction to grating background music and ear-splitting noise that leaves little room for quiet moments of intimacy and shakes your head like a concussive blast from the trumpet of the angel Gabriel, who's played here as a PED-powered sadist. But most disturbing of all is the possibility of a sequel. What kind of God would allow such a thing?