BEWARE — The Legion now streams for free on Amazon Prime, but it may ultimately be an assertion that time, unstoppable and fleeting, is ever so valuable. Do not be swayed by the movie’s marketing superficialities: Although it’s titled The Legion, it’s actually about one man’s journey. And that one man is not played by Mickey Rourke, even though his name is really big on the one-sheet. Now that the truth of the film’s nature is known, we’ll hereby determine if it’s worth watching if your name isn’t Joel Hodgson or Crow T. Robot.
THE LEGION: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The Legion begins on an audacious note, with Rourke mispronouncing “Caligula” as “Caliglia.” He plays Corbulo, a Roman general with heaps of eyeshadow, an eyepatch, Lee Press On Nails, and a habit of talking endlessly to a marble bust of Nero. SUBTITLE: SYRIA, 62 A.D. SECOND SUBTITLE: BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. Fake helicopter shot: a cheaply rendered CGI landscape of Middle Eastern mountainous terrain dotted with the campfires of an army. THIRD SUBTITLE: ARMENIA, 62 A.D. A different Roman general, Paetus (Joaquim de Almeida), hears rotten news from Marcus (Vladimir Kulich). They’ve made a horrible tactical error. They’re outnumbered by the Parthians, who are about to slaughter them. Their other option is to sit tight and starve to death. Shit sux.
However, they come up with a plan so crazy, it might just work: A half-Roman soldier named Noreno (Lee Partridge) will travel across insane terrain to enlist Corbulo’s forces to swoop in and save the legion. He’ll climb cliffs and parry-and-dodge with assassins hiding behind rocks and ambushing him from gopher holes. The camera jiggles nervously: the odds are slim. But Noreno agrees. Cut to the wilderness as Noreno and two pals hike into the following scenario: A half-Roman, a Celt and a Spaniard venture into the woods. When two of them die in visually incomprehensible scuffles with men with daggers and crap, it’s up to the half-Roman to trek on, alone, for a week, or an eon, whatever it takes. Is it still 62 A.D.? Who knows. Without another subtitle, we can’t f—ing tell, can we?
Noreno runs, walks, climbs, trudges, flops, jogs, stumbles, dilly-dallies, diddlefarts, humps, skips, gambols, wanders, willows, flounders, lurches and pirouettes on and on, and on, through the forest. He free-solos up a rock face as mercenaries fall to their deaths. SUBTITLE: DAY III, and I assume it’s not 63 A.D. yet. He saves a girl from rapists. Her name is Duria (Marta Castellvi). She wears the season’s trendiest off-the-shoulder rags and her stone hut is adorned with the finest of vintage hays from Restoration Hardware’s Hovel Collection. She gives him food and a come-hither, but no, he must continue his careening towards Corbulo. Nothing will derail his incredible journey, not even the promise of a little somethin-somethin. Strength. Courage. Duty. Honor. The loneliness of the long distance runner. Etc.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Legion is Troy (except with one guy instead of many guys) with all the walking scenes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (director’s cut) and all the dramatic gravitas of The Room.
Performance Worth Watching: Rourke, because he’s the guy in this movie you won’t get confused with all the other guys.
Memorable Dialogue: “Your mission is over. I’ll give you the sweet release of death. Now tell me, what is your name? I like to know the names of things I’m going to kill.” — some dickhead named Claudius
Sex and Skin: If only.
Our Take: Seriously, there are so many scenes of cross-country foot travel in this movie, it makes LOTR look like a trip to the fridge for another clementine White Claw. Through dirt and snow and sand and river and a desert that’s mentioned but never seen schleps Noreno, who often collapses on his back and wakes up with someone standing over him. One of those someones is an older gent who I think succeeds in converting him to Christianity, a moment that gracelessly interrupts the narrative’s forward momentum, but also shatters its crippling monotony. It’s a wash — the movie would be awful with or without the scene.
Don’t fire up this sword-and-sandals non-epic expecting massive clashes — The Legion is a cast-of-a-dozen cheapo fourth-rate genre exercise that exists deep in the shadow of stuff like 300 or Gladiator. The dialogue is turgid (“They took it as a portent. They hastened to surrender,” Rourke mumbles to the statue), the action is a jumble of edits, the direction is boilerplate, the characters make posterboard look like a double-decker Manwich. It is, however, an extraordinary display of costume rental.
As for Rourke’s rent-a-star performance, well, we can’t help but remember the Wrestler-era stories about how he was broke for a while. He does about a half-day’s worth of work here, anchoring a handful of scenes in which he recites some impossible dialogue from here to obliteration. I mean, he sounds like he’s manhandling every syllable. Bai Ling shows up for one scene as Corbulo’s wife, Amirah, and I mention it out of journalistic due diligence, not because it makes the movie worth watching. I laugh only to stop the weeping.
Our Call: SKIP IT. I cannot recommend The Legion in good conscience, unless you have a cross-country fetish.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.