I Am Legend
The problem with end-of-the-world stories is that there are really only a few possible resolutions. Either the military finally rolls in (28 Days Later), there's a rumored survivor colony (Children of Men), or, well, humanity dies (Dawn of the Dead). What I liked about last month's The Mist was that it was able to put a neat spin on one of the formulas.
The concept behind I Am Legend is more than a little similar to 28 Days Later (or vice-versa, as Legend is based on a Richard Matheson novel from 1954), involving a virus that apparently has turned everyone except our heroes into raging half-human lunatics. Here, there are only two heroes: Robert Neville (Will Smith) and his dog Samantha.
The full details of the virus are slowly revealed throughout the film, so I won't go too far into the details. But the film gets your imagination going nicely with its slick opening. A woman in a television interview explains how she altered the Measles virus in such a fashion that it can now cure cancer "” and then we cut to "Three Years Later"Â and are treated to a number of shots of a completely desolate Manhattan.
Remember how even the bad reviews of Vanilla Sky loved its opening scene, in which Tom Cruise runs through a completely empty Times Square? That's I Am Legend the whole way through. Even though the story unfortunately ends up being weak, the special effects achieve what special effects rarely do: a true sense of wonder.
The first half of the movie is really quite good, as we follow Neville through his day-to-day activities: rummaging through a DVD store, futilely hunting for deer so he can actually have fresh meat, broadcasting a message on all AM frequencies, and quarantining his house each evening to hide from the sunlight-averse monsters.
All of this is remarkably interesting, thanks to the skillful attention to detail and also in no small part to Will Smith; he's the biggest and most reliable movie star in the world for a reason. He's inherently entertaining to watch, which makes it all the more satisfying that he isn't afraid to show that Neville has gone slightly insane from isolation. That DVD store? It's populated by mannequins whom he has conversations with.
But the film doesn't have a destination in mind. Some plot developments mid-way through work well enough, and there's plenty of suspense, but the final act is standard-issue; the climax feels like something out of a typical zombie movie, and the great thing about the rest of I Am Legend is that it's able to transcend the genre. As such, I can't call it an unqualified success, but as it stands it's still slick, solid entertainment, and man it's cool to see New York completely empty.
Movie Grade: B+