Legion (1998)

Made-for-TV misadventures, is there anything grander? Don’t answer that, we both know there isn’t.

Legion is another made-for-tv movie, a 1998 science fiction horror picture that borrows more than a little from the likes of Aliens, Predator, and The Dirty Dozen. It’s a story of prisoner soldiers in wartime turning on each other to confront an unknown menace that hunts them as they try to clear an enemy facility, with a surprising cast and a twist ending that would make M. Night Shyamalan so happy, he’d use it. In fact, he did use the exact same kind of twist in the movie Devil just over a decade later. No, I don’t think he had seen this movie, but still. Of course, Legion is also not without its fair share of problems, but if there’s one thing I like, it’s crap!

In the year 2036, humanity is waging a war of attrition against an alien species; technology and tactics are on par with each other, so things have reached a nasty stalemate. The situation is so dire, one general comes up with a crazy scheme: send in a penal unit made up of elite death row inmates under a disgraced pair of officers to take an entrenched enemy facility. To do it, he picks some of the worst, including murderers, drug addicts, bombers, and even one guy who hacked his own personnel file in a secure database. He gives them the option: the mission or execution. And he puts them under a Major whose last operation involved a casualty rate of around 99%, with the 1% remaining being said Major. Their chances of survival are slim, but considering they’re a bunch of psychos anyway, why the hell not?

Of course, things go awry immediately. The team shows up, discovers the facility is empty, and finds the only other people there are another group of dead soldiers. Then one by one they start getting killed off as they try to hold on until their relief force arrives…which of course will not be fast enough for most of them. Thankfully, they don’t resort to their old criminal ways of murder, sex, cowardice, and drug addiction, right?

Hahaha, of course they do.

But let us take a moment to acknowledge the fact that a low budget picture has an entertaining cast. We have Terry Farrell as the Major still during her run on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We have Parker Stevenson during his Baywatch run as the voice of reason, Captain Aldrich. Corey Feldman is a cowardly computer hacker who is constantly dripping wet (seriously, someone get him a towel). Musician Rick Springfield is here. So is Audie England, star of multiple Zalman King films and series as well the characters Kitana and Mileena in Mortal Kombat: Conquest. Gretchen Palmer of such films as Chopper Chicks in Zombietown and Wishmaster. We even get Trevor Goddard, Kano himself from Mortal Kombat, once again playing a total scumbag and absolutely excelling in the role. And all of these folks are under the watchful eye of General Flemming, none other than 1950s and ’60s heartthrob Troy Donahue. As far as my kind of schlock is concerned, this cast is stacked!

You know what else helps it along? The terrible computer generated sections. Look, it’s obvious that most of the movie was filmed inside some kind of industrial warehouse, possibly the same one that I’ve seen in about a dozen other movies, but from time to time we get a brief dose of CG for spaceships and the facility exterior. It’s not good CG, but it’s mid-90s tier cheap CG, and it works. Why? Because it captures the rudimentary look of space simulator video games of the era. When I saw a blocky space ship in low resolution fly down to a static alien planet, my mind immediately jumped to the likes of Wing Commander and Descent. This is a good thing, because honestly the rest of the movie is about on par with the quality of video game writing. Seeing this sort of visual queue actually made the picture more endearing because it gives me a sense of era for when it was done. Hell, at the time this came out, I was playing Descent: FreeSpace. Who wouldn’t want to relive those glory days?

Unfortunately, even enjoying and reveling in that video game quality, Legion is not without problems. The first and most obvious is the title, which has a single reference in the film as a mention of Biblical script, where it doesn’t make sense. The monster is a hybrid, but it reveals itself as a combination of human and lizard DNA, so why does it refer to itself as “Legion”? It’s got two things in it, not even a few thousand geckos or anything. If ever you’ve had moments where you paused a movie, stared at the screen with a blank expression, only able to mutter a very confused “What?”, this is one.

Still, whatever, it’s a little complaint. The other issue with the film is much more severe, and that’s how it treats its women and ethnic minorities. Let’s go to the women first: one’s personality is that she’s horny, one’s personality is that she’s a religious Death-worshiping nutjob, one is entirely mute, and one is the Major, who is considered a failure. Sure, the guys have their slew of negative character traits and one-dimensional problems, but the movie literally made one woman’s purpose to only try to get laid, while another doesn’t even get any lines.

Worse yet are how the script treats the two Black members of the cast. Karison, the one Black woman, is the hyper-sexualized sexpot whose sole purpose in life is to get laid. She spends most of her screen time in various states of undress or trying to fool around. And then she gets murdered, literally while having sex. Yep, the one Black woman is there to be in a bra and get fucked to death. Not a good look. And then we have the one Black man, Poe, a former shock trooper who slaughtered a village while under orders. Can you guess who gets blamed when the bodies start piling up? If you guessed the one Black man, you win! He’s wholly innocent, but knowing that these folks are all shoot-first-ask-later or worse, shoot-first-and-don’t-ask, he immediately goes on the run. When he does show back up, he gets just enough screen time to declare his innocence and then sacrifice himself to save the white hero. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

Is Legion good? It’s cheap, it’s schlocky, at times it pulls punches for its television release, and it falls into traps that may leave the audience to groan over how it unwittingly presents itself. As we spend time examining the social and societal impacts of genre cinema, it doesn’t hold up as quality, no. But for what it is, it can be entertaining, and it didn’t leave me hating it the way I hate R.O.T.O.R. And feeling like I need to bathe with lye and steel wool. It’s crap, but I’m pretty sure it knew it was crap from the outset, and it does what it can with a stereotypical script, little money, and a talented cast that makes the most of bad material.

Seriously, I hate R.O.T.O.R.

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