Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman, Richard Matheson (novel)
Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie
Starring: Will Smith, Salli Richardson, Alice Braga, Willow Smith
Studio/Running Time: Warner Bros. Pictures, 100 mins.
"It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
(It’s time I had some time alone.)"
-R.E.M. “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”
How many times can the survival of the human race fall into the hands of Will Smith?
Five so far, it seems: Independence Day
, Men in Black
I & II, I, Robot
, and now, I Am Legend
(The sixth is on the way, as he’s set to play a superhero in next year’s Hancock
.) But really, why not? The former Prince of Bel-Air is a box office mega star. But despite his requisite ticket sales, Smith’s latest hero-fest fails to sustain its high octane beginning.
The film begins with a news interview of a scientist (Emma Thompson) revealing to the world that she and her cohorts have created a virus that cures cancer. But quickly the virus turns ugly and soon most of the world’s inhabitants are either dead or transformed into horrifying, night-prowling mutants. Fast forward three years, and there's military scientist Robert Neville (Smith), immune and alone on the island of Manhattan, as he works to find a cure in his basement lab.
The scenes of New York City are wondrous and fantastic. Wild animals run through Times Square in the foreground of faded Broadway posters. With only a German shepherd as a companion, Neville drives through the city picking up supplies for his fortressed home and humorously interacting with well-placed mannequins. But through a series of mistakes, Neville’s dog is exposed to the virus and Smith gives a gut wrenching performance as he tries to save him.
The film contains two major weaknesses, but they aren’t enough to bring it down. They do, however, keep it from being something greater. First, it’s a matter of character generation. The real-life look of the sets, the old news footage, even Smith’s performance, are all tainted by creature effects comparable to 1999’s The Mummy, 2004’s Van Helsing or an arcade video game. Even the deer Neville chases through the streets are weak digital creations. The night mutants are terrifying, but comical with their exaggerated slack-jaw screaming and gravity-defying runs. Secondly, while the film scoots along at an appropriate pace for the majority of the work, it felt as if studio execs abruptly hollered, “Okay, 15 minutes! Let’s wrap this thing up.” A big effect here, an impassioned speech there, and suddenly it’s over.
However, despite I Am Legend's setbacks, Smith’s heroics are as impressive as advertised. And really, when you attend a movie like this, what more do you desire?