Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith
Director: Francis Lawrence
I try not to feel intimidated by films with big casts, budgets and reputations. “I Am Legend” is one such film – a $150m budget with a $585m box-office gross and starring Hollywood’s most bankable star, Will Smith. I shook the underwhelming ghost of “I, Robot” from my head and settled down to watch an apocalyptic nightmare unfold… apparently.
It’s 2009 and Dr Krippen (Emma Thompson) announces on TV that she has cured cancer. Three years later and things aren’t quite so rosy. The cure for cancer (basically a re-engineered measles virus) mutated and became an airborne virus that killed 5.4 billion people. Of those who lived a small percentage were found to be immune but a far larger percentage were not – they transformed in to an animalistic, primal race that prowl the streets at night as they are sensitive to sunlight.
The assumption is that the immune were slaughtered by the infected and the last remaining human on earth appears to be army scientist, Robert Neville (Will Smith), who remained in New York City to try and reverse the effects of the virus. Through flashbacks we note that he had his wife and daughter (Salli Richardson and Willow Smith) transported out of New York three years earlier and now has only his German Shepherd, Samantha, for company.
During the day he leaves his safehouse to try and capture infected humans (Darkseekers) so that he can perform tests on them in his underground laboratory and try to find a cure. At night he sleeps in a bath tub with the lights off and all his windows and doors boarded up as the infected remainder of the human race prowl the streets looking for prey.
Neville knows he must find an answer soon and, if he does, what is his motivation? Everyone else is dead. What is left for him?
“I Am Legend” (based on a 1954 science fiction novel by Richard Matheson) certainly requires a bit more engagement than your standard zombie film. In other words, this isn’t “Resident Evil”. While the movie has been criticised for deviating from the book’s plot, it does recreate a bleak apocalyptic vision and has a narrative that expands beyond the typical big-budget blueprint.
Director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”) has by no means a simple task on his hands given the storied project he inherited (numerous actors, directors and scripts have been lined up and abandoned since the mid 90s). What he has presented is a watchable but uneventful action movie with heart.
Smith, as always, plays his role well (he’s not your typical scientist but I guess casting Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti didn’t appeal to the producers). He engages during the numerous silent scenes and his relationship with Samantha, the only “living” creature he gets to interact with, is affecting. I was reminded of Tom Hanks’ “Castaway” film in the sense that his character must try to overcome a long-term lack of human interaction by interacting with inanimate objects (Smith’s character does so with mannequins).
But there are issues with the way the story is told. If you haven’t read the preview blurb then you might be confused. Neville watches old news clips that relate the initial breakout of the virus but I’m sure it took some people time to twig that these were historical reports. The flashbacks tell some of the story but leave an awful lot of information out. For example, there is no focus on the actual spread of the virus, how it manifested itself, the devastation it caused (a prequel covering these issues is provisionally slated for a 2011 release).
The film takes an unlikely turn and then showers us with an unsubtle Christian subtext which is an instant turn off for me.
“I Am Legend” works for a while but just at the time you expect something to happen, it just kind of ends. Shame.