I am Legend (2007)

6 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Thinking you’re the last person on the planet is a common fantasy among people. You have everything to yourself and you make do with what you have. But the truth is if you really were the last person on Earth, it’d be a living nightmare. You’d be very lonely and would most likely suffer psychological anguish for life.

Richard Matheson wrote a novel called “I Am Legend” where the main character goes through that very ordeal. It goes through what the character would go through if he thought he was the only one in the world. Everyone else has either died or become vicious creatures (not unlike vampires)…or have they? I sometimes wonder if what the character is going through with the creatures is really just part of the character’s mind, as a symptom of loneliness. It could be. It’d be very interesting if it was.

2007’s “I Am Legend” is the third cinematic adaptation of the novel and it’s a pretty damn good one.

It stars Will Smith in a powerhouse performance as Dr. Robert Neville, an ex-military scientist who just could be the last man on Earth. He lives in the now-desolate New York City, three years after a virus that was supposed to cure cancer wound up wiping out most of the human race. Neville is immune to the virus and has been spending his days alone, trying to develop a cure for the “infected,” which are the people who didn’t die but instead became predatory zombie-like creatures that only come out at night.

He also has one companion—a loyal dog named Sam. They hide during the night and hunt during the day. As the movie opens, we see him hunting for stray elk as he’s interrupted by a lioness (that escaped from the zoo?). But Neville is lonely and can feel his sanity slowing drifting away (like I said, it could just be that the “infected” aren’t really there after all, and everyone else is just dead). He sets up department store mannequins all over the street and actually talks to them in friendly, neighborly chat as if they were really people. And he often suffers flashbacks of his family’s tragic fate, as Neville tried to keep them clear of the danger before it spread. (This is also where we get knowledge of what exactly happened before all of this.)

The first time we see New York City is just breathtaking. It’s abandoned and desolate, looking remarkably like how it would look after three years’ lack of residence—note the weeds growing on the street. It’s incredible.

For the first hour or so, “I Am Legend” is a masterful piece of filmmaking. It’s a thriller with a great deal of tension (overlying and underlying), a more-than-capable actor playing the hero, and a sense of pace and place. And there are some terrific action sequences, in which Neville and the dog are attacked by the infected. And they also follow some really suspenseful moments, such as when Neville and the dog explore dark garages and buildings where one of the infected just might be hiding and waiting to attack. But then the movie runs on autopilot for its final act, unfortunately. The climax of the movie is just your standard monster-attacking-the-house climax where characters are forced to fight off the enemy, nearly get caught, find some way to fight back—you name it, you got it. The outcome is less than satisfactory. It’s forced.

And do you remember what I said about the creatures possibly being figments of the protagonist’s mind? There’s an ending that proves it wrong. That goes to show that “I Am Legend” was, without giving much away, merely to be a B-movie. But until “I Am Legend” heads in that direction, it’s a heavy, tense, entertaining movie.

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