I Am Legend (8/10)

Yeah, that’s right, you are.

No matter who you are or where you live, chances are you reserve some measure of respect for Will Smith, and there’s a good reason. He’s gone from rapper to TV star to blockbuster king, all seamlessly, and he’s maintained his dignity while doing so. He’s helped to cement the marketability of African-Americans in films. Back when most movies were being made about white men, he was among the frontrunners, alongside Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, and others. Sure, he’s been in some crap, but he’s also been in some very quality films as well. Earlier this year he released The Pursuit of Happyness, and I Am Legend is closing off this Will Smith 2007 sandwich. So how does it hold up? Well, I’m happy to report that even though it has its fair share of flaws and doesn’t deliver on the action-packed quality the trailers promised, it ends up being a rather haunting and surprisingly captivating end of the world tale.

The year is 2012. Humanity, and in particular, New York City, has been devastated by a virus that had been believed to cure cancer, but in fact had mutated and transformed most of the world into vampiric-like beings who live in the dark. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, living on a cut-off Manhattan Island with his German shepherd, Sam, and going through a daily routine of gathering food, hunting, and capturing these “infected”, as they’re called, in order to study them and find a cure. He also spends an hour every day at midday waiting on a pier overlooking the water in hopes of seeing someone come to the rescue.

For the first five minutes of the movie, it seems like it’s going to be a long and boring ride. I mean, how fascinating can watching one man play golf, send radio transmissions, and work out turn out to be? As it turns out, pretty damn fascinating. The routines that Smith goes through (it’s been one thousand days since that he’s been doing this) emphasize how lonely he feels, and Smith’s performances sure makes it pack a punch. He has a daily routine of going to the video store and renting out movies, and he talks with the mannequins to forget how alone he truly is. He converses routinely with his dog, too, and the bond between them is one of the strongest human/animal bonds that I’ve seen onscreen in years.

The movie opens with an interview with a doctor who claims she’s cured cancer. Less than a minute later, we see Smith driving through the ruins of a devastated New York. This film serves as a cautionary tale of sorts, against the sin of human pride. Throughout the film, there are flashbacks to Smith driving his wife and child to escape New York, and these also serve to flesh out Smith’s character too. They work far better than placing them at the beginning, where is traditional. The sparseness of their placement and where exactly they are placed serve to further emphasize Neville’s situation. By the end of the film, the character of Robert Neville feels so real that I wouldn’t have been too surprised if he stepped offscreen to say hi. Smith does some excellent work here and makes hims a terrified shell of a man, emphasizing his humanity rather than his situation. Another actor might have made him simply scared sh**less, but Smith has the wits to know that he needs to create a character we can identify with, and he succeeds brilliantly.

The special effects of I Am Legend aren’t exactly top notch, but they’re not really something to scoff at either. The infected looked a little too CGI, and at the beginning there’s horrible CGI work with some lions. Other than this, though, the rest is top notch, and for the most part the effects don’t make themselves too well known. The action is first-rate, and the tension sometimes gets so high you’ll find yourself gripping the edge of your seat wanting to scream at the screen with apprehension. There are a few scenes that are masterfully staged to maximize terror and fear. One of the things that I was pleasantly surprised about this movie was its well-cultivated environment of fear. The cheap scares are very minimal (if not non-existent), which really heightens that sense that Robert Neville must feel whenever he exits his house and must constantly be on the watch for the infected.

The film is not without a few weaknesses. In the last fifteen minutes of the film there is talk about God and spirituality and destiny, which seems to pop out of nowhere, but if you look for it you’ll find foreshadowing earlier. Another weakness is the sometimes too convenient-for-horrible-th

ings-to-happen-plot. Neville has been surviving 1,000 days without a scratch on him, and I suppose something wrong was bound to happen sooner or later, but the mistakes that occur in this film seem too simple for an experienced survivor like Neville. A key point in the film revolves around an incident that is never really explained and makes you wonder why Neville had not thought of that earlier. The cinematography is also fairly unimaginative. It does its job perfectly well, and with some sweeping shots of a deserted Big Apple it really succeeds in hitting home the idea that this is a world that we do not know. But in the first five minutes of the film, as we see Time Square overrun by piled-up cars and grass growing everywhere, I couldn’t help but think of 28 Days Later, where the main character wakes up to a deserted London. With the beautiful yet terrifying cinematography there, the idea of a deserted city was much more powerful. Aside from these few complaints, though, the film is a very interesting experience, the token summer blockbuster that somehow found its way into a December release.

One very impressive factor about I Am Legend is how much its director, Francis Lawrence, has evolved since his last outing with 2005’s Constantine. That outing (which, yes, I did enjoy) was rather boring filmed, with every shot perfectly centered, as if he were scared to draw outside the lines. With this movie, he has some challenging shots in the dark (no pun intended), fast motion shots, and many others that he handles quite well. It’s nothing that’s Oscar-worthy, but it’s a step up for him, which I appreciate.

I Am Legend is by no means a masterpiece. A lot of critics are panning it right now, but I think they’re just being too Oscar-happy. If this had come out during the summer it would have been much better received. I think also a lot of people may be ticked off for the liberalities it takes with the book. As I’ve said, I haven’t read the book, but from what I’ve read, the book is a lot more revolutionary than this semi-generic picture. But it does its job very very well, and Smith’s charisma does wonders to carry the whole thing. Smith is a legend in himself, so it makes sense. It won’t win many awards (if any), but it has a good heart at its core, some powerful acting, and challenging explorations into the depths of a lonely human soul, and an endearing story about a man and his dog. What more could you want?

I really really liked I Am Legend. Those who have been waiting in eager anticipation for months for this movie (like I had been) will most likely still enjoy it. If you know Will Smith at all you know that his presence in a movie usually means it’s a guarantee you’ll have a good time. My recommendation: if you’re a sci-fi fan, go see it. If you’re a horror fan, go see it. If you’re a Will Smith fan, go see it. Have I covered all the demographics? Yup, I think I have.


One Response to “I Am Legend (8/10)”

  1. yes, will smith did a great job carrying the movie, he has grown a ton as an actor

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