I Am Legend (2007)
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Charlie Tahan, Abby the Dog
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
I have to admit that I wasn’t too excited to see this movie when I first heard about it. My first impulse was that it was another exercise in stroking the ego of Will Smith, who has made a lot of big dumb action movies that have made him a very rich man, but have also made him a bit tiresome. After seeing more previews, I figured I’d already seen this movie when it was called 28 Days Later…, so I didn’t think I needed to see it again. Then I heard that they were showing a sneak preview to The Dark Knight before IMAX screenings of I Am Legend, and suddenly I was a little interested. After reading some decent reviews, I decided to give it a shot.
I’m glad I did. While it wasn’t without its flaws, I Am Legend proved to a strong blockbuster, with moments of true excellence, providing a respite of pure entertainment in the sometimes dreary awards season for movies. Smith gives one of the best performances of his career, dialling down some of his trademark charisma while exuding the humanity that makes him such a likable actor in a role that demands quite a bit from him.
Loosely adapted from Richard Matheson‘s 1954 novel of the same name, I Am Legend presents a post-apocalyptic world where the man-made Krippin Virus has killed 90% of the world’s population. The remaining 10% remained immune to the virus, but a percentage of them devolved into vicious, sunlight-prone mutants who fed on the remaining survivors. Such it is that military virologist Robert Neville (Smith) finds himself to be possibly the last uninfected human being on the planet, desperately trying to find a cure while remaining vigilant against attacks from the infected, with only his German Shepherd named Sam to keep him company.
The first part of the movie is quite phenomenal at times, with director Francis Lawrence putting us into an abandoned Manhattan that nature has begun to overtake. The effects here are as breathtaking as they are haunting, echoing Smith’s performance as a regimented man slowly deteriorating from lack of human contact and the toll of knowing everyone he’s ever met is dead. Smith is able to hold our attention throughout the first half of the movie as the only human character, and Lawrence succeeds in creating real tension in both Neville’s struggles and the looming threat of the infected.
Unfortunately, when the movie builds to a climax, it’s unable to maintain the excellence of the first two-thirds of the film. I didn’t mind the final act, which was reasonably exciting, but it felt out of sorts in comparison to the rest of the movie, trading in nuance for typical blockbuster thrills, while dropping some story threads that felt like they were leading to more interesting resolutions. It feels like something was left out in the editing process, possibly to bring the movie under a certain time or possibly to ramp up the explosions or excitement. It’s not a movie-killer by any means, but it does leave me wondering if a better cut of this movie exists to be released down the line.
As for the cut that actually exists, it’s a little disappointing such a promising movie ended in a more typical fashion than its earlier self promised, but overall, the movie still delivers impressively. It’s an exciting, poignant, scary thrill ride with some of the year’s best visuals, highlighted by a strong performance by one of Hollywood’s true leading men.