** This review covers the show’s first three episodes **
Can it be? In this age of comic book adaptations is there finally a live-action X-Men series on TV? Sort of. Maybe. I’m not sure yet.
Legion follows X-Men alum, David Haller who’s begrudgingly referred to as Legion in the character’s source material. On the small screen, Legion is the story of a man whose powers have instead been mistaken for mental illness, creating a life long struggle with reality, drugs and the world around him. Smartly portrayed by Dan Stevens, David’s battle with guilt and delusion come to a head early in the series’ first episode when the notion of his madness begins giving way to something else.
A nonlinear rollercoaster, Legion’s opening puts a lot in front of the viewer, cramming characters, backstories and tons of innuendo into an epileptic acid trip. You have to grab on tight as David’s journey moves fast and gets bumpy right away. A few of the names along for the early part of this ride are Jean Smart, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza and Jeremie Harris. There’s a ton more, but these will be the notable faces in the opening chapters. Keller, who plays love interest Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd fans rejoice), stars alongside Stevens as fellow mental patient/gene-freak.
The writer, show runner and in-general man behind the curtain for the series is Fargo’s chief scribe, Noah Hawley. Fresh off terrorizing North Dakota, Hawley tries to bring a lesser known comic character to life in a way that can only be described as Twin Peaks-ish. After taking in the first three episodes, words like psychedelic, trippy and weird scramble to the front of the line when attempting to articulate the experience.
Though a tad choppy, Hawley offers you just a taste of what’s really happening, then parks you right next to David letting the viewers learn as the character does. It makes for some vague, clunky moments, but overall what’s interesting far out weighs what isn’t. The Memory Game timeline is an aspect of the story that offers the most to digest, so if you hated Pulp Fiction for that reason, you might struggle here as well. But overall, three hours in, I want to get answers to the questions that are being asked. I want to see what most of the characters will do next. In general, I just want more.
Stylistically the show is gorgeous. In a setting that’s supposed to be frantic, creepy and just plain weird, the usage of color and lighting is great. There are moments where mood is indicated by the scene’s light source and as that light shifts the entire climate of the scene brilliantly shifts with it. Filling those shots are Wes Anderson-esque backdrops covered in saturated colors that are dialed up – or down – a shade or two from actual reality. Everything just has this fun, unusual aesthetic. And it wouldn’t be an X-Men related (is it?) production without the less than subtle “X” in the occasional window frame or building architecture.
For the most part, the show’s casting is strong. The unusual choices and character types make for a colorful group in front of the camera that nicely compliment the varied backdrops. In fact, the issues I have aren’t actor related, they’re more about the characters themselves. In a story that puts its eggs in the nuthouse basket, you’re going to have over the top characters, but there are a couple – Mackenzie Gray’s The Eye and Aubry Plaza’s Lenny Busker to start with – that read more caricature than character. I know, I know, it’s a comic book show, but when the topic is Crazy, you need many of the things around it to be grounded or the whole thing’s unbelievable. Or at least it makes it hard for you to suspend your disbelief for the allotted 60 minutes.
So based on the first three episodes: set design, lighting/cinematography – great. Casting and acting – solid. Story – weird and fun. Cool X-Men stuff – ZERO. Throughout the initial three hours the only indication that this show has anything to do with the X-verse is the word “mutant,” which was uttered a whopping two times. Two times. If you edit out those utterances, there is absolutely no connection to the X-Men offered by this new X-Men show. None. It doesn’t feel like the X-Men, it doesn’t look like the X-Men and it doesn’t sound like the X-Men – whatever that would sound like. And it doesn’t have to for it to be good, but it is a little disappointing in a era where similarly branded shows fearlessly embrace their comics heritage. You could have just as easily made this show using brand new characters, never having to worry about a connection to a near-centuries old franchise.
I really enjoyed Legion. For some it might take getting through the first couple of episodes to really be on board, but the wait is worth if for fans of weird, interesting stories and mind-bending characters. The editing could be a little cleaner, some of the players could be a little more grounded – or at least a little less silly – and the source material could at least be referenced. But with wonderful set design, engaging actors playing interesting characters, there’s a lot to like about Legion in the early going.
Do you enjoy weird, edgy storytelling filled with outlandish characters in a world just off kilter from your own? Then 100%, WATCH THIS SHOW!
Prefer a “monster of the week” or “procedural” type show? THIS ONE MIGHT NOT BE FOR YOU. But! If you just want something new, something fun and a little less ordinary, Legion is at least worth a try.
Legion airs on FX, 9PM Central. Watched it already? Click on over to Facebook and tell us what you thought!