The success of movies at the Box Office is dependent on covering not only production, but also marketing costs, a fact which often goes overlooked when looking at movie budgets. On average, marketing costs approximately a third of a movie's overall production budget, which means - on paper that just the marketing of a movie like Avatar cost more than the entire budget of your average summer blockbuster: i.e. around $150 Million. The pay-off, of course, can be that you recoup a significant amount of money - even if the movie is not very good (i.e. Transformers 2), although the rule does not always hold up (Prince of Persia costs $75 Million just to market, and still has not even made that back, let alone the $200 Million production costs).
Conversely, good movies can have a massive success from marketing (Avatar!) or can flop just because they wasted too much on promoting the damn thing (Hot Tub Time Machine costs $35 Million to make, and they spent £30 Million marketing it, making back just $50 Million). You can also get some good movies which don't get any marketing (arguably because of their low budget) and aren't discovered until they hit the Home Cinema realm, which is where they finally make a profit. I recently reviewed the enjoyable underrated - and totally underpublicized action flick The Losers, which made little at the Box Office but went on to become not only top on the home format charts but also the first theatrical release to take 51% of its sales on Blu-ray (i.e. beating DVD). And then, of course, you can have great movies that have almost no marketing (Inception) which reap unexpected rewards just through positive word of mouth. Bad movies? Well they can get no advertising too, and die a slow, quiet death somewhere where nobody notices their passing. I knew precious little about Legion prior to this review, but for having seen the poster which shows an angel holding a big knife and a sub-machine-gun. I was interested to see what category this softly-promoted film fell into.
Archangel Michael has just landed on Earth. First order of the day: cut off his rather inconspicuous wings. Next up: steal loads of guns. His mission: to find a sacred child who has been marked for assassination. You see, apparently God's lost faith in mankind, and has decided to send a bunch of hitmen angels down to Earth to annihilate everyone. Michael, finding out about the diabolical plan, has come down to try and stop the impending apocalypse: and the sacred child is the key. Where is the child? In the belly of a waitress who works at a trucker's diner in the middle of the Mojave desert, near Vegas. Pretty-soon the disparate group of patrons and workers within that diner will be compelled to join forces with the renegade Archangel and stave off a legion of possessed 'angels' who all want to kill the girl. Does the poster make a little more sense now?
Legion is a mess of a movie. It has grand ideas, but they have been cinematically realised in such a haphazard fashion that you can't help thinking that a child must have pieced together a story. You know that story game you play where you each say a sentence and make a somewhat random but extremely eventful story? Well this is it, come to life. First kid: “An Angel is cast down from heaven.” Second kid: “And he's got a machine gun.” The whole plot does not hold together under the weight of some over-serious performances and some preposterous concepts. Just saying “God did it before, with a flood” doesn't quite allow suspension of disbelief. Not when a motley bunch of rednecks are holed up in the desert, under siege from a bunch of people with strangely contorted bodies and razor-sharp teeth. “They're Angels, sent to kill us” doesn't quite cut it as an explanation.
Still, this movie's failure was not necessarily as a result of its insanely over-the-top plot. Actually, it might have been pulled off had the thing not been pieced together so badly. The introduction to the ex-Archangel Michael is weak, at best, descending to Earth with seemingly innate medical skills and trained in the John Woo art of using a handgun. The bunch of people in the diner? You don't care about a single sole, and - barring perhaps one or two - you are probably quite happy with the order in which they are picked off. The seemingly endless legions of angelically-possessed humans? Well, they're largely just cannon-fodder.
The movie actually works, in parts: the crazy old lady had novelty value, the man in the ice-cream van looked like a body double from one of the mutants from The Thing, and the acid death was suitably graphic. The premise may have been far-fetched, but had they actually used a few likeable characters, and peppered the movie's thin plot with serviceable action sequences (rather than trying to string together lacklustre action scenes with an anorexic story), the end result may have been at least entertaining. The trouble is that far too many ideas just don't work (the CGI swarm of flies, which cuts away far too abruptly, and the rather odd mechanical baby - who's not supposed to be possessed but still looks like she is!) and the movie feels rushed and clobbered together unprofessionally.
Cast-wise, we get a bunch of b-movie veterans: some newcomers, some who were once much more popular/acclaimed. Paul Bettany heads up the cast as Archangel Michael, a stoic, Terminator-esque role which requires very little acting from the man who was great opposite Crowe in the underrated Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. Amidst the diners we get Dennis Quaid - who, with the likes of this and G.I. Joe, is clearly now just interested in the paycheques; Tyrese Gibson - who was at least allowed to be a little funnier in Transformers, and takes himself far too seriously here; and Charles S. Dutton - who was the best thing about the flawed now-cult third Alien entry, but has since gone on to become typecast in that kind of preachy, God-fearing role. Then there's Lucas Black, you know, that kid Caleb from American Gothic, who has finally grown up a little bit, even if he still hasn't shown anything particularly special (his turn in Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift was acceptable). On the female front we get relative unknowns Adrianne Palicki and Kate Walsh, as well as that cute girl from The O.C., Willa Holland, but honestly they are all pretty wasted in wafer-thin stereotyped female roles. I guess Willa does get to run around in an amazingly short skirt shooting people, but that's about it.
Although it's not really the cast's fault - they are clearly trying their best - you can't help but question why many of them chose to be involved in this project in the first place. Did it really sound that good on paper? The Director also wrote the damn thing, so I levy the majority of the blame in his direction. He's pretty-much a novice at this, being primarily a visual effects guy, and it really does show: the effects scenes are basically the only competent thing about the movie. And they are far from enough to justify its very existence.
There are some movies that you hear very little about: relatively low budget and little promotion. Despite high concept ideas, and perhaps an interesting poster or two, the movies can end up being surprisingly good or totally dire. Once lauded Director Neil 'The Descent' Marshall's last feature, Doomsday, definitely fell into the latter category, and I suspect his upcoming Centurion will sink without a trace too. Legion feels much like Doomsday: a bunch of far-fetched ideas cobbled together by a relatively new Director who just doesn't have the budget to bring his elaborate vision to life. The end result is tiresome, disjointed, poorly structured, shallow and, at the end of the day, pretty damn pointless. Seriously, if you want a decent apocalyptic-archangels-on-earth film, watch the underrated Keanu Reeves movie Constantine instead. Or even the 80s Christopher Walken flick The Prophecy. They handle these kind of ideas much better than in this movie. Honestly, it took me several attempts to watch Legion right through to the end, and by the time I finally did, I felt like it had been an utter waste of time.