Hokum at its purest: Paul Bettany as the archangel Michael in "Legion"
The End of the World has always been Nigh in the movies. At certain times, it appears more Nigh than at others. We're in one of those doom-laden phases right now. We've seen universal death by a mutating cancer cure (I am Legend), mass infertility (Children of Men) and a deadly virus (28 Days Later). And maybe just when you thought it was safe to venture out, the darkness has intensified. In the past couple of months alone, audiences have witnessed the end of civilisation as predicted by the Mayan calendar (2012), life on earth after an unspecified cataclysm (The Road and The Book of Eli) and implied environmental burnout (Avatar). And now with Legion, Hollywood goes back to scripture itself, and brings on a plague of flies, some festering boils and a couple of archangels.
The apocalypse, and its slow-burning younger brother dystopia, are simply great fun for art directors and production designers: all those brooding skies and half-ruined but still recognisable national monuments, all that combat gear. You can prettify the future nightmare with splashes of 1940s retro-chic, as in Ridley Scott's classic Blade Runner, or make it macho-cool, as in the Mad Max series. Rarely, however, do we get to see a pair of giant fluttering, feathered wings, especially when connected to the back of an action hero.
In Legion, Paul Bettany is the archangel Michael, who descends to earth — Los Angeles, actually — intent on thwarting God's plan to throw in the towel and obliterate humanity. Clipping off his wings and taking on a kind of man-with-no-name persona, he goes in search of an as yet unborn child who, we are told, is mankind's only hope. This leads him to a small, greasy diner in the middle of the desert, where an assortment of characters presided over by the owner, Dennis Quaid, are holed up as the world outside goes seriously off-kilter.
This is hokum at its purist. Legion is nominally a horror film. It has its share of splattered blood and ghoulish zombies, although probably not enough for dedicated fans of this hugely popular cinematic sub-culture, who will doubtless also view the spectacle of Michael fighting the archangel Gabriel, who's been sent to make sure God's intentions are carried out, as unintentionally funny. Mindful of not being taken seriously, such apologists for horror and science fiction always justify their beloved genres by claiming that they tap uniquely into the anxieties and preoccupations of any given time. Well, there's certainly something different going on in Legion.