I AM LEGEND (2007)

December 27, 2007

I Am Legend review
I am legend

Matt: Three stars

Length: 101min


The last man on earth is not alone.

Précis: The world’s last human being hangs in New York and battles zombies in a disappointingly flimsy rendition of an idea rich with potential.

Review by Matt:

In the future of 2012, humanity has turned into zombies. Not crap meandering Night of the Living Dead style zombies though. Smarter-than-your-average-zombie zombies who are also fortunate to be about as agile as Spiderman. Sounds like a super-race. Except – and this is always the bummer with zombies – they keep wanting to act rabid and eat people. That’s what Robert Neville (Will Smith) the last human on earth has to put up with after a mutated virus either killed or zombified all of humanity. Neville’s story is told in I Am Legend, the new blockbuster for the 2007-08 holiday season, adapted (with considerable liberties) from Richard Matheson’s famous 1950s novel of the same name.

It’s an exciting premise. Post-apocalyptic films are always exciting, as they’re a ripe genre for exploring big themes. I am Legend starts promisingly. Neville screams through the grass-ridden, abandoned streets of a moribund New York in a red-hot mustang. Deer and lions roam the streets with him (one assumes they escaped the Manhattan Zoo, unless savannah animals just materialise wherever there is grass) and he hunts the deer, creeping with a rifle through the literal urban jungle. Cool. Soon after, Neville is whacking golf balls from a stealth bomber out into the Manhattan Harbour. Neat. Some time later he pokes around in the zombie-ridden alleys, the audience plunged into the darkness with him. Scary.

Ok, but when does the day-in-the-life of the last human finish and the interesting and thought-provoking plot begin? Hmm, it pretty much doesn’t. Turns out that this is only an averagely interesting portrayal of the post-apocalyptic future. I Am Legend spends too much time showing us the eerie streets of future New York and there’s only a sophomoric sophistication to the rest of it. A quality dystopian film like Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006) will weave the intricacies of the future society into the actual plot without slowing down. I am Legend doesn’t get a jump-start until its second half when an event actually pushes the plot forward. From there, the remainder consists of zombies leaping video‑game-style at our hero. Something we’ve seen one thousand times in a variety of monster, alien and horror films.

I was not at all surprised to learn that director Francis Lawrence’s previous film experience consists of Constantine and a bunch of pop music videos (given these connections could he not have got Britney Spears in as a more realistic zombie?). I am Legend is generally pretty, but a bit anemic. The plot is a thin, straight line with a gasping little lurch every now and then. It even finishes with a weak deus ex machina which, considering the blundering way the plot was charging toward it, is really pretty predictable. The film also leaves plenty of frustrating questions about why Neville and the world are in this situation, and even about how some of the immediate plot makes sense (as you watch the second half, remember that Manhattan is an isolated island, with all bridges destroyed). Even with the flesh-eaters battering at the screen before me, I was distracted by some of the film’s inconsistencies.

Will Smith (who’s really starting to develop an oeuvre of Hollywood sci-fi flicks – I Robot, Independence Day, Men in Black) is at least easy to watch. It’s a tough gig for Neville: alone, pestered by surprisingly poorly rendered CGI zombies, with only his loyal German Shepherd to accompany him (the other dogs have rudely mutated into slavering hellhounds). Smith looks suitably forlorn and holds the screen pretty well. I think it might actually be to his advantage to be able to act without having to interact with other humans; he seems better when he just expresses quietly. It’s a good thing he has his trusty dog to work with; together they’re able to stir up some genuine moments of emotion. In Cast Away, poor old Tom Hanks only got a volleyball.

But none of this is really enough is it? Adequate acting from a man and his dog; a nicely computerized future New York; a kernel of an idea stolen from a classic? I’m disappointed to say that I am Legend is just a nice idea executed ineffectually, and it grazed right off me. I just hope that it’s not too long before Hollywood starts work on the magnificent-sounding Superman vs Batman movie that’s advertised in the background of I Am Legend’s 2012 Times Square. Of course if the filmmakers forget the plot and just try to string together a few action sequences, even Superman vs Batman will fail, despite its compelling premise. Just like I Am Legend.


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