I Am Legend is a prime example of a great idea gone wrong in the hopes of pleasing everyone. What starts off as a compelling drama descends into a stock B-grade horror flick with some of the worst big budget special effects of recent memory. It’s really a shame, because Will Smith carries the film admirably and the numerous shots of a desolate and vacated New York City are truly haunting.
The film, adapted from Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name, concerns the last man on earth, scientist Robert Neville (Smith). He has survived a deadly virus that wiped out the last of the population some three years back. He roams the city ruins by day with his dog, Sam, in the hopes of finding fellow survivors. Told in parallel form is the story of how the virus was born and the measures that were taken to quarantine it.
I have been deliberately vague is my synopsis (just like the trailers) as there are some twists to be found. The overwhelming issue with the film is that the themes, of which there is nearly endless fascination, are completely lost in favor of awful CGI and cheap shocks. The notion of such a virus erupting from a “miracle cure” is hardly far-fetched, but the possibilities are sadly squandered. Director Francis Lawrence lays the atmosphere on thick and is very competent behind the camera, but what were screenwriters Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman thinking when it came to the third act? The film does manage to tap into our fears of loneliness and the unknown in its first two acts, mostly due to the stellar set design and a handful of “how did they do that?” moments when it comes to an empty New York.
Will Smith, who has no choice but to carry the film, steps up to the challenge. Neville experiences a broad spectrum of emotions and Smith avoids turning the character into a superhero of sorts while simultaneously steering clear of excessive sentimentality (always a challenge with an Akiva Goldsman script). As we become more familiar with his situation, the worse we feel for him. There are supporting players (including a fantastic performance from Sam the dog), but going into detail would reveal spoilers.
I Am Legend is certainly a downer, but it could have been made more worthwhile had the screenwriters finished what they started instead of going all Resident Evil on us. There are aspects of the film to recommend (namely the incredible set design), but the experience on the whole isn’t worth the overall effort. This is one of, if not the, biggest blown opportunities of the year.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 101 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Theatrical Release: December 14, 2007
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Mark Protosevich & Akiva Goldsman. Based upon the novel by Richard Matheson. 1971 screenplay by John William Corrington & Joyce Hooper Corrington.
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Dash Mihok, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Charlie Tahan, Willow Smith