When I first read that the X-Men character Legion was going to be adapted for live action, I had exactly the same reaction I did when I read that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to become a big budget Marvel movie. I thought to myself: that’s ridiculous! You’re going to take an obscure property not many people care about and pour big bucks into it? Then I thought about it for a few minutes and realized what GoG has become and why it worked as well as it did.
When big name comic book characters are being adapted for film or TV for the first time they usually have to follow a path. For example: Captain America: The First Avenger needed to show Steve Rogers journey from a wimpy kid from Brooklyn to an iconic World War II hero who gets frozen in ice; touch on a few major plot points along the way and do it with style. However, when you take the really obscure D-List characters like Legion, creators are given a certain amount of creative freedom and elasticity to do what they think is best, while remaining true to the character. It’s this obscure elasticity that makes Legion work well and stand out from the rest of the comic book TV crowd.
If you’re not familiar with Legion, he is an X-Men character named David Haller. Haller was created in 1985 by legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz. In the comics Legion is an “Omega Level” mutant who suffered from multiple personality disorder (and one of the most questionable haircuts ever!). Each of those personalities potentially gives him a different power and mindset. So, over the years, the character has been portrayed as a hero, antihero and villain. It’s no spoiler that David is also the long lost son of Professor Charles Xavier. Currently, Haller still pops up from time to time in X-Books, but has not been seen much recently. His last chance at a solo book in X-Men: Legacy didn’t seem to connect with fans or last too long on the stands.
In the show David is played by actor Dan Stevens, best known for his work on Downton Abbey. David is portrayed as a “paranoid schizophrenic”, who clearly has even bigger problems he is facing and Stevens gives a great performance in an undoubtedly difficult role. The same can be said for the handful of surrounding cast members. The show puts the X-Men movie & comic franchises almost entirely on the sidelines and focuses purely on the issues in David’s head.
After a quick flashback Legion begins in a mental institution with David in his 20’s and captures perfectly what it could feel like to have these mental issues in combination with hidden fantastical abilities at the same time. With constant variables, artistic flash-backs and stylistic possible flash-forwards, Legion constantly makes the audience question what is real at the same time.
The artistic execution of this pocket world shines through amazingly! This is largely due to creator, writer and director Noah Hawley; who just recently gave us Fargo. Other writers and directors include and Michael Uppendhal of Mad Men. If you took some of those previous works and added a sci-fi elements Legion is the result.
Yet it’s hard to compare the look and feel of Legion to any other comic book adaptions. That’s a very good thing! It has a style all its own and feels fresh. Don’t expect a lot of action in the typical comic book sense. While the show might appear a little slow at times David’s borderline insanity helps the plot move along at a good pace; even if it can all be a little dizzying at times. How it all comes together just strengthens the fact that you don’t need capes or jumping off of rooftops to make quality comic book adaptations, even from a Marvel name.
It should also be noted that while this is a show on FX and an X-Men /Fox property, Marvel TV Studios did co-produce it. This probably doesn’t mean Marvel will be gaining the rights to any X-Men characters, but their magic touch is definitely there. For now, the show is only scheduled to be eight, hour long episodes. So it should fly by pretty quick and leave a good impression. So, if you’re still on the fence about this show, feeling lonely this week, or want to watch something with a special friend on Valentines do yourself a favor and check out Marvel’s little Legion side-pocket!
Legion airs on FX, Wed. nights at 10:00pm