I Am Legend

Is Will Smith gonna have to choke a bitch?

Something must be wrong with me. I didn’t find I Am Legend to be a bad movie. Having done some further research it has almost nothing to do with its source material, but it’s not a terrible movie by itself. I get the impression that promotional materials in Australia didn’t tell anyone what it was about beforehand, save for Will Smith being alone.
Fortunately, Will Smith can carry a movie.

Also I can pick out a film’s motif straight up! Especially when it’s totally unsubtle as it is here.

Emma Thompson, reprising her role from Junior, develops a virus that cures cancer. Sadly this virus also either kills people or turns them into “Dark Seekers”, cannibalistic fiends who feast on the flesh of the properly living. Three years later, Robert Neville (Will Smith) is all alone … save for his faithful dog, Wilson Sam.

Now, in a $150 million film, I have certain expectations. For example, I expect someone who goes to sleep in a bathtub not to wake up in his bed. I also expect that if you have a theme of butterflies going, then you’d better have your penultimate butterfly look like a butterfly rather than a snow-angel. Also you probably shouldn’t spring pseudo-spiritual discussion on us at the last second.

Still, I Am Legend is a “smart” movie. I know this because most of the people in my audience seemed to have difficulty following it. I get the sinking feeling that this is the most intellectual feature that any of the people that I shared this experience with will see this year. I mean, it’s not a dumb movie by any means. Sometimes it even goes so far as to suggest rather than actually show. This is why Will Smith is able to carry it. If something really profound happens in a movie, though, you know that someone simply will miss the point entirely.

Now that’s out of the way! The first parts of the movie are effective because they set up Will Smith and they show the frankly intriguing idea of an abandoned city. I think it’s the dream of a lot of people to explore a deserted place, and something as large as New York City takes this to its logical conclusion. We get the added benefit of no one actually having to die in reality. We can just watch Will Smith going about with the flocks of deer. Smith is personable, and always has something to play off. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he carries the movie, because he’s really got no other choice.
The conceit of the film is that Smith is of course not alone, and things want his blood.

Here’s where things get a bit sketchy. The “Dark Seekers”, as they are called, are identical fiends who are allergic to ultra violet light. Smith’s Neville seems to be arrogant when he claims that they lack any humanity, because they clearly demonstrate to be crafty bastards. They have no apparent means of communication, but they can formulate plans and cooperate even while competing for their food source. You can’t have a scientific analysis that is blatantly contradicted by the actions that you’re seeing on the screen. In fact, I would wager that the reason that Neville cited for the Dark Seekers’ lack of humanity was actually a means of proving they were developing their own brand of humanity. They can operate in family units, even – dare I say it? – like Replicants.

So see I Am Legend. It’s imperfect in its conception, and it features an entirely unnecessary detour into Shrek, but it creates a great atmosphere in the first hour without ever quite ruining it. It holds back where it could have gone into wave after wave of attacks, and for that I salute it. For its literary fidelity – yeah, you’re pretty much screwed on that. Good luck anyway.

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One Response to I Am Legend

  1. Wavatar Mark says:

    I liked this and it was better than I expected, but there are a lot of things that bother me about it. The biggest issue, of course, is that it kinda derails from the book, which is a bit baffling because they kept the title of the book without actually delving into what it means. How is Will Smith legend? In the movie, I guess you assume that because he’s one man in a deserted world, that he’s legendary, but in the book it stood for so much more. It was an inversion of the vampire myth (another thing that bothers me, instead of vampires, we get CGI “Dark Seekers” that look boring and unscary… but at least they’re not Hemocytes, which an earlier script called them). To the Vampires, Will Smith is like a bogeyman – i.e. he is legend! But the movie never really gets there. And it has to gussy up the story with a happy ending too, which isn’t something I typically mind, except that this is one of the few instances in which I think the “unhappy” ending really works (at least, in the book). But otherwise, decent action movie with some thought behind it.

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