Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Legion Of Iron (1990)

Billy (Kevin T. Walsh), whom you wouldn’t have to ask to not be a hero in the first place, is a football star (read: glory hog) for some nameless college whose games are seemingly played at the local community park.  His main squeeze Alison (Camille Carrigan) is, unironically enough, a cheerleader.  She won’t, however put out until she’s married.  So, while the two are necking after “the big game,” they are summarily subdued and whisked away by helicopter to a clandestine complex in the desert.  At the insistence of the wicked Diana (Erika Nann), Billy is to become a killer for her underground gladiator fights.  Alison is redubbed Aphrodite, and turned into a harem girl to be used by the strongest of the fighters, in this case Rex (Stefanos Miltsakakis).  Fellow gladiator Lyle Wagner (Reggie De Morton) takes Billy under his wing to train him for Diana’s death matches.

Legion Of Iron is Yakov Bentsvi’s premier directorial effort (he is more prolific as a producer), and it is entirely predicated on the question “wouldn’t it be cool if….?”  There is nothing in this film which isn’t some puerile, eighteen-year-old boy’s fantasy.  There’s an underground fortress.  There’s a dominatrix eager to dole out equal parts pleasure and pain at a whim.  There are buff, oiled guys beating the shit out of each other for sport.  Selfsame guys are all dressed like stereotypes: soldier, barbarian, tribal chief, etcetera).  There are hot women whose sole purpose is to pleasure the men.  There’s a paramotorized ultralight aircraft.  Unfortunately, there’s also no depth whatsoever.  This film is the very definition of being a mile long and one inch deep.  Actually, come to think of it, it’s not even that deep.

Of course, there are those who bemoan reactions like mine to films like this.  I know.  I suck all the fun out of watching dumb shit, and this is not to say that I don’t enjoy things like this myself, mind you.  But I believe there’s also a difference between giving a film a pass because it was never intended to be other than mindless fodder and giving a film a pass despite its utter incompetence.  To clarify, then, there are things I enjoyed about this film, and there are even some things going on which are kind of unusual for the genre (that is, after all, why I write these essays in the first place, or at least what I tell myself), but it is not well-made.  The fight choreography in the film is at or below the level of ten-year-olds grabassing at the playground.  Every action is stilted.  Every reaction is a flinch, which is especially humorous considering these guys are meant to be trained killers.  More’s the pity, since there are some nice desert landscape shots on the outside of complex, but aside from these, Legion Of Iron is amateur hour.  On to the more interesting aspects.

The character of Diana is one we’ve seen before many, many times.  Normally the archetype is a little more subtle than depicted here, though.  Some of the first lines of dialogue she has for Billy include these gems:  “What is reality?  Just what the strong think is right,” and “You will worship me like a queen.”  She is all about pain and pleasure, and she equates love with hate and vice versa.  The very first question that occurs to anyone watching this film is “why would these guys choose Billy for their little fight club in the first place?”  The second question is “what about this dipshit is so attractive to a woman like Diana who, even if she couldn’t attract a man (which she definitely could), could certainly afford to rent one?”  But Diana makes no bones about whipping a fighter in front of the others.  She bears no obloquy for her desire to give and receive pain.  She’s a hellcat, and aside from those who would shy away from the more afflictive facets of lovemaking with her, she’s what young men (and some young women) most often think they want from a woman.

Alison, on the other hand, embodies the Madonna-whore complex.  She’s a virgin.  She wants to remain a virgin.  She’ll go in for some foreplay and light groping, but that’s pretty much it.  Once she’s brought into Diana’s web, her virginity is given to Rex in an act of rape which is both sleazy and surprisingly bereft of meaning.  Alison is degraded and used as a sex tool, making her attractive (or as attractive as white lipstick and silver lamé can make one) in that she (involuntarily) puts out, whereas when she wanted to keep her chastity, she was less glamorized from the film’s point of view.  After Diana volunteers Alison to be gang raped by fifteen or twenty guards, Alison becomes enthusiastic about her new position (no pun intended).  We, of course, expect this to be a ruse to lure Diana into a false sense of security, but there is absolutely no indication this is the case.  Alison will still attempt to escape, but she also makes no attempt to avoid or protest her harem-ly duties.  Only after she is ritually sexualized and becomes desirous of sex can she become a true mate for Billy (or Rex, or anybody else for that matter).  It’s a pretty Neolithic view of women, but to the filmmakers’ credit, that they went as far as allowing their damsel in distress to undergo what she does is pretty ballsy.

Oddly enough, for how far the film goes with the levels of debasement the characters are forced to endure, they also carry little weight aside from motivating Billy to be filled with righteous indignation and rage.  We see Alison getting raped by Rex, and she’s crying, but somehow the movie manages to get us to not really care.  Add to that, she seems pretty okay with everything only a scene or two later, and you’re left with the notion that the filmmakers simply don’t give a damn.  They go through the motions, it’s true.  It’s difficult to not be amused by some of the wilder visuals (say, a skinny segarsi who wears a spangled Ziggy Stardust  outfit with hot pants when he’s supposed to be a badass), but I was completely uninvolved in Legion Or Iron.  I’ve seen Tex Avery cartoons that took their stories more seriously than this.  If you’re in an altered state of consciousness, you may find a lot to love in this movie.  Otherwise, I would suggest not.

MVT:  Diana is intriguing in that she really is the one in control of these men.  In that respect, she’s actually a strong female character.  On the flip side, however, her characterization is thin as cardboard, so any positives to her become simply rote Action villain tropes.

Make Or Break:  The training montages are tough to watch, not only because they’re awkwardly staged and scattered through the film at seemingly random points, but also because they don’t offer much in the way of progression.  The whole point of a training montage is for the character we’re focusing on to acquire some skill in order to overcome the upcoming obstacles.  So, even though Billy gets the drop on Wagner in training, his movements are still as bungling as they were when the two started.

Score:  5/10

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