Exploring Priest (2011) & Legion (2010)

I feel like Priest and Legion are a perfect double bill as they both star Paul Bettany and are directed by Scott Stewart; the director seems to have an interest in religious themes as it plays an important part of these two films but Stewart also directed the TV series Dominion which was set 25 years after the events in Legion; it lasted two seasons although I have never seen it.

I thought I would take a look at Priest and Legion as both films were generally dumped on by critics (and audiences) and quickly forgotten about; I hadn’t watched either move for a while, so I’ve been looking forward to revisiting them.


Priest (2011)

Plot: In a society ravaged by centuries of war between humans and vampires, a legendary warrior priest (Paul Bettany), a veteran of the last conflict, lives in an enclosed city ruled by the church. When a murderous pack of vampires kidnaps his niece (Lily Collins), the priest breaks his sacred vows and sets out to rescue her before the bloodsuckers put the bite on her. Joining him on his quest are his niece’s boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) and a former priestess (Maggie Q) with supernatural fighting skills.

Priest is based on the graphic novel by Hyung Min-woo and even opens with an impressive animated sequence that is arguably the best scene of the entire film. After that it feels like several other movies stitched together, but despite the flaws I do enjoy this film mostly due to the music score from Christopher Young (Hellraiser) which is one of the most underrated of recent times. I never hear anyone talk about it and it deserves more love with its epic choirs and pipe organs making the film far cooler than it otherwise could have been.

Paul Bettany plays the morose Priest who looks depressed for most of the film but if we lived in a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by vampires we probably wouldn’t be best pleased either. There are themes in the film being anti-organized religion but nothing is really explored that much with plot threads that go nowhere and the fact the story is about vampires just makes it all a bit silly, so it’s hard to take it seriously. Everyone on screen certainly seems very po-faced and it is at times unintentionally funny, lacking any levity whatsoever.

I do enjoy Paul Bettany in both Priest and Legion and he does the best with what he’s given here. Karl Urban chews the scenery as the villain and Maggie Q is as badass as ever. Cam Gigandet’s character is there just to help Priest but you easily could have cut him out and just had Maggie Q in a bigger role (possibly the girl’s mother).

The visual effects still look good and frankly better than a lot of recent blockbuster fare but Priest is also fast paced and never boring. Normally I’ll moan about films being too long but in this case Priest could have been longer and given us some more characterization, so we actually cared about someone. It’s all over far too fast, so we never have time to really hate Karl Urban’s villainous Priest turned vampire. We definitely needed more characterization as these guys were meant to be former friends but it just moves from set-piece to set-piece taking away any kind of emotional stakes (pardon the vampire pun).

It was very much open for a sequel which I imagine could have explored the lore a bit deeper however, you shouldn’t have to wait for another film for this one to be good.

In terms of action we get some decent fight scenes, cool weapons and futuristic motorbikes all of which look awesome however, the gravity defying battle on the train feels lifted from The Matrix and made the film feel dated very quickly in that respect.

Overall, Priest feels like half a film that needed more fleshing out of characters to actually give us more stakes but it is still a fast-paced, action-packed ride elevated by Christopher Young’s score which is one of the best of the last 20 years. You can’t help but feel there could have been something special here as the visuals are impressive and there was potential to explore interesting themes of organized religion but instead we are left with an entertaining if ultimately rather forgettable sci-fi, horror, western mash-up.

Legion (2010)

Plot: For the patrons and staff at a dusty roadside diner, the day begins as usual, but when the phones go out and a sweet old lady goes on the attack, it’s a harbinger of the terror to come. As the horrifying nature of the situation sinks in, help arrives in the form of the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who tells a pregnant waitress that her unborn baby is humanity’s last hope, and he will do anything to protect it.

Legion once again stars Paul Bettany but it also has an impressive supporting cast including Adrianne Palicki, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Lucas Black, Willa Holland (Arrow), Kevin Durand and Charles S. Dutton (who is arguably my favourite character). Bettany plays the arc angel Michael who defies God by coming to Earth to save mankind from destruction; this doesn’t sit well with other angels especially Gabriel (Kevin Durand) who vows to stop a baby being born who can save mankind.

So, it’s kind of a second coming tale with Adrianne Palicki’s not especially likeable Charlie giving birth to a chosen one but if the baby isn’t born then mankind is doomed. It’s not exactly an original idea but it certainly has some awesome moments.

It is of course very silly at times (especially the old lady scene) but it’s another well-paced film with impressive visuals and plenty of action including shoot-outs (with double gun play), a climactic fight scene between Michael and Gabriel and of course some explosions.

One stand-out scene for me is the arrival of Gabriel as we hear the horns of the apocalypse which are unbelievably creepy and yet cool at the same time. Another memorable sequence of Legion was the scene from the trailer featuring the ice cream van where the man turns into a monstrous creature; I want to say demon but they aren’t demons; they’re meant to be angels which I still think is odd. There are a few creepy moments and I love every time a car appears on the horizon and the headlights get closer, so we are wondering what fresh Hell is coming.

This is another religious themed action/horror movie but this feels more positively disposed towards it with Michael’s (Paul Bettany) last words in the movie being “have faith”. My favourite line is when Dennis Quaid’s jaded diner owner says “I don’t even believe in God” to which Michael responds “Don’t worry, he doesn’t believe in you either”. What’s interesting is that in real life Bettany is an atheist whereas Quaid is a believer.

The music score to Legion has some suitably epic choirs but lacks the memorable themes of Priest and isn’t a score I listen to as regularly.

I think as a story Legion flows better as it has a proper beginning, middle and end whereas Priest felt like 30 minutes of it was cut and was expecting a sequel that never came (due to its failure at the box office).

Overall, Legion has some striking visuals and the arrival of Gabriel is undeniably cool; it’s well paced and has plenty of action with a few horror elements mixed in. Some of it is nonsense and the old lady attacking the diner is hilarious but I don’t think it’s meant to be. It lacks any subtlety (especially a scene where there is an explosion and the debris is in the shape of a Cross) but it’s still an entertaining diversion.