02 June 2010

No such thing as invisible thread (Legion)

Just a little thought on sophistication.

My roommate and I just finished watching Legion. I didn't have much desire to see it, but she did because she likes Christian imagery and films that pertain to the Biblical apocalypse. I like Dogma, which she's never seen, and she likes Gabriel, which I haven't seen, so those are our viewpoints going into this thing.

She likes it. I hate it.

I hate it to such a degree that it now has a place in the number three slot of worst movies ever made (second is Wanted and third is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li). It has the exact same problem that Wanted has, it's a moronic, dumb-as-a-brick action roller-coaster that tries desperately to convince you otherwise but has absolutely nothing with which to back its claims.
I don't have any problem with action movies, and I certainly don't hold something like Shanghai Noon or Indiana Jones to the same standards as I do something like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Rashomon. However, the makers of action movies have to learn to either be content with being what they are, or rise to the challenge that comes from trying to be more sophisticated. Imagine a scale of action movies and their level of relative sophistication. On one end of the spectrum is something like Rumble in the Bronx, by no means a bad movie (it's one of my favorites, really), it's just slightly silly and doesn't hold up to much scrutiny in the way of physics, logic, depth, or anything along those lines. It never takes itself seriously, but doesn't try to get you to, either, because it knows it has nothing to offer apart from a spectacle. On the other end of the spectrum is True Lies, also by no means a bad movie (a favorite, as well), but it's a very clever and deep movie with multi-layered characters and a tonally-consistent approach to its own plot. It takes itself seriously when it needs to, and laughs at itself when it wants to, and makes it very clear when the audience is supposed to laugh along and when they're supposed to care.

More movies on the Rumble in the Bronx side:
Shanghai Noon
Enter the Dragon
Street Fighter

More movies on the True Lies side:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

These two relative extremes work, they're not outside of the gray area, but they're not dead center, which is where movies like Wanted and Legion are. They'd be outclassed at the sports bar with Watchmen, Kingdom of Heaven, and Curse of the Golden Flower, but they think too highly of themselves to kick back on the couch with 300, Temple of Doom, and Enter the Dragon.
The chief reason why Legion is in the dead zone, its key failing, is its plot and story. At the end of the day, Legion is half a movie, and not just because of its "cliffhanger" ending (this movie makes the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie look self-contained); half of the plot points and concepts it introduces are never followed through with or resolved. Furthermore, many of these concepts and plot points are introduced very late in the film's progression. This is also quite possibly the first film I've ever seen to employ both Chekov's Gun and a Deus Ex Machina (a very literal Deus Ex Machina).

My roommate says my problem is that I was putting more thought into the film than the average viewer. Granted, that's probably true, but like I said, I would never apply the same level of cerebration to this film as I do to American Psycho or 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. Apparently, even my most average of criteria is too much for this film to handle. It's entirely possible for an action film to have a deep narrative and well-rounded characters. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples to go by, so even if you just want to sell a lot of theater seats, you don't have to insult your audience's collective intelligence to do so. Legion bombards you with Christian imagery and lore in the vain hope that people's general ignorance of some of the deeper meanings presented in the Bible will earn the film some kind of revere.

The emperor isn't wearing new clothes, though, he's just naked.
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