I Am Legend
Robert Neville, a former soldier and brilliant scientist, has tasked himself with finding a cure for the deadly virus that was originally created as a cure for cancer. Having turned the majority of the infected into rampaging mutants filled with rage and a deadly aversion to UV rays, New York City is now an overgrown ruin of it’s former glory haunted by Neville and his faithful companion Sam, the German Shepherd.
To kick this off, I’m going to commit blasphemy to many of you readers out there. I’ve never read the original book. My research tells me that the ending has changed drastically from the book, but all I have to go on is this movie in itself in comparison to the previous two incarnations, The Last Man on Earth, and the Omega Man.
Judging from the previous two tenants of Neville’s shoes, Vincent Price and Charlton Heston, Will Smith had a rather large pair of shoes to fill. Having been known primarily for his wise cracking tough guy schtick in such outings as “Men in Black” and “Independence Day”, it’s understandable that some people would be a bit leery of Smith taking on a role that pits him and his acting skills…completely on their own. Thankfully, after taking in this latest revision of the story, Will Smith found those shoes a bit small for him.
With a movie that pits the majority of the movie on the performance on one man, it takes a special someone to pull it off. Will Smith managed to show that he has some legitimate acting chops with his portrayal of a man possible facing, and fighting off, the extinction of man kind. Sure, he managed to add a small bit of his patented Will Smith flair to the roll, but none of it was over the top and he made it fit in with the atmosphere around him. Sucking the viewer in to this tail, I judged his performance as such; it never felt like a chore watching Smith do his thing on screen. Charlton Heston’s version of Neville was filled with camp and swagger, Vincent Price’s was an old man filled with melancholy. Will Smith’s Neville was a man filled with a purpose, dealing with life without his family, and showing some fault where needed with the crushing wait of being possibly the last human left alive. His co-star, Sam, was surprisingly pretty enigmatic for a dog as well.
My problem with “I Am Legend” falls in the baddies that have been brought in to represent the mutated mankind left to roam the earth. Their acting was fine, even their animalistic tendencies were spot on, the problem was…they weren’t real. CGI pollutes a lot of movies these days and often times brings a movie down a notch or two. In “I Am Legend” the mutants were quite cartoonish in appearance and managed to look like a herd of Gollum’s tearing hell after Will Smith. They look fake enough at first appearance they pull us out of the movie that Smith worked so hard to suck us into. As they begin their attacks however the violence and mannerisms that they programmed into these protagonists fit quite well, despite not being able to wonder if they’re going to find ‘their precious’. For myself however, Smith’s performance, the flashes of back story showing the break out and break down of society, and the portrayal of Neville’s daily regimen to try and find a cure for their ills was so well done that I was able to overlook the cartoon bad guys. Yes, they will pull you out of it for a few but the rest of the movie is so good, you’ll get over it.
The ending of the movie is what is making other internet reviewers so vocal. With talks of the crew having to re shoot the ending, many feared, as did I, that after sitting through such an engrossing flick the ending would be a heavy let down. The ending we got however, felt right for this telling of the story. Like I said at the start of this review; I’m not a purist. I never read the book. That may be why the ending that we got worked so well for me. The ending of the book would have been rather nice as well, judging what I found in my research. The key to enjoying this for you purists is; they never make a movie exactly like the book. Unless you’re Peter Jackson. Try to keep an open mind to a new telling of the story and you’ll get along well.
I was apprehensive about Will Smith heading up a solo performance as storied as “I Am Legend”. I wasn’t sure he could pull it off. I can now happily say that this is a flick I’ll re watch quite a few times, and dare I say; I liked it more than the previous two takes of it.
Ignore the naysayers, give it a shot.
4.5 Will Smith makes this look gooood out of 5