Starring: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Kate Walsh, Adrianne Palick
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
In recent years, we have seen lots of strange angels in our pop movies. What about Christopher Walken in the Prophecy series? What about Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton in Constantine? And a small-budget thriller from Australia which has some theme similarities to Legion, a film called Gabriel? This time it is Paul Bettany as Michael the Archangel.
The screenwriters have been dipping into biblical sources as well as movie traditions. Michael arrives on earth as the film opens and offers a strange theology, that God has got sick of the human race (as happened at the time of the flood) and is ready to destroy it by sending loyal angels to do the job (rather brutally with a nod to George A Romero’s Living Dead horror movies).
The heroine tells us a story from her mother who had lost faith in God after family tragedies – she still believed in God but thought that God had become tired of the “all the human bullshit” – and repeats this unusually phrased thought at the end. You get the idea.
The opening quote from the Psalms speaks of the fear of God, but it is interpreted as being afraid of God rather than its actual meaning of being in awe of and reverence for God.
Then we find that Michael has disobeyed God and is saving the life of a child about to be born of a single mother who does not know who the father is. The young man at the service station in the isolated Mojave desert is called Jeep (Yank for Joseph, perhaps, although the mother is surprisingly called Charlie). Thus the Gospel references.
However, this mother of a saviour who will lead the human race in hope has more than several echoes of the Terminator films. So a pot-pouri of angelology, theology, with lots of movie references (the TV is showing It’s a Wonderful Life where Clarence is telling George Bailey he is wanting to earn his wings – Michael has just cut off his to identify with the humans). Assault on Precinct 13 and other siege films (like Westerns) come to mind as the final group of humans, with the mother of the saviour, defend themselves from angel/diabolic attack as they surround the service station.
The director acknowledges the sources but says the film is not about religion (though many groups in the US who have an apocalypse now or soon point of view may think it is). Rather, the film is an exercise in movie religionism!
This is one of those films that seems preposterous even as it tries to ground itself in serious sources. The only thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the siege and Michael, the angel warrior, trying to protect the human race – and does final battle with a steely-winged Gabriel. If this seems too impossible to sit through, fair enough. It’s just a concoction. But, as usual, apocalypse happens in the US and the saviour is, of course, American. That thought is not particularly theological!
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