There’s a lot wrong with Ridley Scott’s Legend. But instead of writing it off as an outright failure, it’s deserving of admiration because Scott and his creative team made a movie completely devoid of cynicism, which is commendable. The filmmakers set out to make pure fable come alive through the magic of the silver screen. There are too many problems with the final product to warrant calling it a success, but the effort of all involved is worthy of respect.
The first sign of trouble comes with the opening text crawl. The most famous example of this device, those floating columns of exposition from the original Star Wars films, set the scene quickly. That’s not the case with Legend. The informational paragraphs here are interminable and artless. So much information is crammed in, it’s like a nervous studio executive worried that audiences would be confused by the lack of explanation in the rest of the film. We’re told Darkness ruled the universe before light came to the world. It was the light, protected by unicorns, which drove him into hiding. To protect the light, only a true innocent can find the unicorns. The rest of the movie makes all this abundantly clear, calling into question why the opening explanation is needed at all.
The movie itself concerns the innocent Lily (Mia Sara) as she unwittingly puts the unicorns in danger when she touches them. She does this in the presence of goblins sent by Darkness (Tim Curry) to catch and kill the sacred protectors of light. Jack (Tom Cruise), a forest dweller, brings Lily to the unicorns because he loves her, not realizing that she will endanger the creatures. The rest of the movie is an uneven mix of boring plotting, awkward comic relief, one performance that is particularly mesmerizing, and incredible make-up and special effects.
Ridley Scott has had a long and varied career as a filmmaker. His latest two releases are great examples of the range possible in his output. Produced within a year of each other, Scott climbed dizzyingly high peaks in The Martian and crawled along depressingly low valleys in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Scott is a visually striking and inventive director, but his talents can’t compensate for a poor screenplay. So, when he gets his hands on a script as strong as Blade Runner or Alien, his masterful visual flair perfectly enhances the story. With a substandard script, like the aforementioned Exodus, the movie turns into a muddled mess.