I Am Legend

starring Will Smith
written by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman and directed by Francis Lawrence
rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

Sometime in the very near future, science will discover what at first appears to be a medical miracle: a genetically-altered form of the measles that cures cancer. Unfortunately, within three years it will have morphed into a ridiculously deadly super-virus that kills 96% of the earth’s population and turns almost everyone else into a hyper-aggressive flesh-eating monster whose one major weakness is sunlight. Military scientist Robert Neville (Smith) and his German shepherd Sam are the only survivors left in New York City, perhaps in the whole world, and they spend their days hunting deer in Times Square and their nights sleeping fitfully through the din of howling vampires just outside. In addition to the day-to-day struggle to stay alive and stay sane, Neville has another objective: find a way to reverse the effects of the virus and save the remnants of humanity.

Will Smith is really great. I can’t recall an actor having to carry a movie like this (and succeeding) since Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Wherever this movie fails to deliver, it certainly isn’t his fault. Unfortunately, like Cast Away, I Am Legend is mediocre at best whenever its focus is not on the plight of the lonely survivor. Cast Away isn’t the only movie it reminded me of, either. While I watched, I couldn’t help but think, “I liked this movie better when it was called 28 Days Later.” The ending is underwhelming and artificial (and borrowed from M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs). In fact, so many little elements of I Am Legend brought other movies to mind, that I felt constrained to conclude it was nothing more than a hash of things that had been done before, and done better, elsewhere.

As intriguing and enthralling as parts of this movie are, there are just too many things that pull it to pieces. Enormous plot holes and dangling storylines abound, hinting at an extremely lazy drafting process. However, another thing they really got right is the abandoned, overgrown New York City. The environments are perfectly realized on an enormous scale that one struggles to take in. These stunning vistas of nature reclaiming one of man’s ultimate bastions of civilization are top-notch, which makes the shoddy realization of Smith’s computer-generated opponents all the more surprising and disappointing.

There was not a moment of the monsters’ time on screen when I was convinced of their physical presence. Quite the contrary, their glaring artificiality was distracting, removing any possibility of genuine terror or even suspense. When your monsters are obviously cartoons, don’t expect them to scare anyone. And, that aside, why should even virally-enhanced human beings be able to scale vertical brick walls like Spiderman, leap several feet in the air, or open their mouths so ridiculously wide?

I Am Legend is actually the 3rd screen version of a ’50s sci-fi novel bearing the same title. Previous versions, starring Vincent Price and Charleton Heston (the king of grim, post-apocalyptic futures), were renamed The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man. The filmmakers would have done well to change the title this time, too, as their changes to the story’s ending make the title incongruous and nonsensical (despite a lame attempt to make it fit in the final line). However, they’d have done still better to keep the original ending, which rivals that of the original Planet of the Apes with its bleak power. Ah, the film that might have been . . .

~ by Jared on December 14, 2007.

2 Responses to “I Am Legend”

  1. “And, that aside, why should even virally-enhanced human beings be able to scale vertical brick walls like Spiderman, leap several feet in the air, or open their mouths so ridiculously wide?”
    Well, the first makes no sense at all. The second…it depends on what “several” is. I’d imagine (not yet having seen the movie) increases to human muscle power could easily allow leaps of at least 10 feet into the air, to say nothing of distance. As for mouths…um, different jaw hinging? I’d have to see it to decide how wacky it looked (apparantly shoddy animation quaility aside).
    So would you recommend the movie in general, or only with caveats?


  2. I seem to recall one leaping over a jeep from the rear and landing on the hood. Something like that. The mouths made me think of The Mummy movies, if you’ve seen those. 72% is not a good score, but I wasn’t squirming in my seat, waiting for it to be over so I could leave. As I said, Will Smith is rock-solid, and there’re some great ideas at work (at least at the beginning). Unfortunately, there was also shoddy work and large portions of the plot don’t stand up to close examination. And I really didn’t like the ending.

    Overall, if you think the premise is intriguing and you tend to like this sort of thing, you’ll probably have a largely enjoyable time seeing it. I didn’t feel it deserved the requisite suspension of my disbelief, but others might reasonably disagree. And I wouldn’t object to, say, watching it again on DVD with friends as a bit of harmless, thoughtless diversion. But, as I said, this movie could really have been something and it dropped the ball.


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