It was inevitable that I Am Legend, which is based on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, ended up having the disadvantage of being compared as a pastiche to the successful and very good sci-fi/horror flick 28 Days Later and its sequel. So the big question is: is this film good enough to stand on it’s own? The answer is yes. I Am Legend deserves a positive review but it can also be labeled as a misfire when you look at how mediocre the final third of this movie is, compared to how thought provoking and astounding the first two-thirds are. In the end, you have to admire it for everything it does right in the film’s first hour of it’s 100 minute running time.
What we know is this: in the year 2009 we had made a breakthrough on the cure for cancer. It is so ironic that being on the brink of destroying the most dreaded disease in our society would eventually lead to near extinction of the human race. A scientist found a way to mutate an otherwise deadly virus into a non-harmful one that attacks cancer cells. But things go horribly, horribly wrong as the cure virus does indeed mutate into a deadly form, turning everyone it doesn’t immediately kill into mindless beings called Dark-Seekers, who are ethereal to sunlight and full of rage and hunger. There is one man left as far as we know. That man is Robert Neville (Will Smith), who is apparently immune to the virus and spends his days wandering about New York City and his nights quarantined in his home with his trusted canine companion Sam.
The first hour is grandiose entertainment. It is an intoxicating look into the life of a man who might just be the last person left in the world. Director Francis Lawrence (2005′s Constantine) shows some awe-inspiring wide-shots of post-apocalyptic New York. His direction and storytelling along with the editing by Wayne Wahrman (light-years ahead of the poor job he did with 2006′s All the King’s Men) are all very acerbic. Most of the first act shows Robert in his daily routine, which includes hunting, watching movies, and hitting golf balls off of a Navy carrier. With meticulous timing, Lawrence flashes back through Robert’s own hindsight to the profound events that occurred on the dreadful night in which Robert lost his family and at the same time captures the devastating nostalgia that Robert feels responsible for each and every day.
Will Smith gives a very solid and palpable performance as Robert. Smith shines in some particularly touching scenes and keeps the film buoyant in its weakest parts. Robert’s milieu includes department store manikins he has placed throughout a video store he visits every day to check out a new movie. The audience has no trouble sensing that this is a man who is desperate for social interaction with another human being. There is even a scene in which Robert is on the verge of having a break down and he tells one of the manikins “Please say hi to me.” This scene could easily come off as awkward but Smith nails it. Through his three years of non-existent social interaction, Smith forms an unconditional bond with his dog, Sam. Lawrence wisely treats Sam as a supporting character and Smith’s love for her is believable enough to convince us that he would risk his life to go chasing after her when she runs into a building filled with Dark-Seekers. This scene is extremely well-executed, jarring and unremitting.
The first hour truly has the makings of a great movie and it is a dirty shame that Lawrence loses focus of Robert’s emotional state and sinks to a denouement filled with computer-generated monsters causing a ruckus. I wouldn’t call this part of the film bad, but it is definitely inconsistent and a tad overblown. My problem with Dark-Seekers is that they are animated and don’t really pose as much of a threat as the humanistic semi-zombies in 28 Days Later do. They only seem to hurt the film when they are onscreen and are much more effective in scenes like the one mentioned above. Lawrence should have used real extras to play the Dark-Seekers instead of wasting money on amateurish special effects that make the final product look like an alien rather than a human being.
A perfect post-apocalyptic thriller has yet to be made, in my opinion. Many loved last year’s hit Children of Men but I thought it was not without flaws. The same can be said for 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Here, it is pretty clear to see the flaws that have some critics tearing I Am Legend apart, but I think they only keep the film from being great and there is certainly more than enough material to keep the movie on a recommendable level and leave the audience, fans of the horror and sci-fi genres in particular, satisfied.
The Upside: 2/3 of a masterpiece.
The Downside: Having to get over the fact that it’s only 2/3 of a masterpiece.
On the Side: If you’re lucky, you may get to see the awesome first trailer to The Dark Knight!
||Release Date: December 14, 2007
Running Time: 101 minutes
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Dash Mihok
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Richard Matheson (novel), John William Corrington (1971 screenplay), Joyce Corrington (1971 screenplay)
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Website: Click Here