2 out of 4 stars
There have been plenty of stories of virus outbreaks and the “freaks” produce of those who cheat death. Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” is about just that and is the latest book adaptation, starring Will Smith. Smith has handled drama incredibly well, as seen in films like “Ali,” but his skill just wasn’t enough to save the heavily hacked adaptation from being a disappointment.
While the novel took place in Southern California, Lt. (and scientist) Robert Neville resides in New York City. Rather than presenting the story chronologically, the background is shown through a series of flashbacks. An Army scientist developed what she believed to be the ultimate cure for cancer. Unfortunately, the cure was actually a virus that turned those injected with it into ravenous monsters with vampire-like qualities. Manhattan became Ground Zero and the military-issued quarantined failed. The virus became airborne and soon, nearly everyone on Earth was dead. Those who survived turned into said monsters. The film takes place years after the fact, with Neville living alone with his dog, stock piling food and supplies, and working on a cure.
He keeps a collection of rats in his basement lab to help develop the cure. The rest of his days are spent broadcasting a signal for any survivors to head to a certain location where he will be every day at the same time. At night, he locks himself into his Washington Square apartment, bolting up all windows to avoid any attention. When he does travel around, he keeps his dog Sam with him and hunts the “monsters” as necessary.
Now, for those who are familiar with the novel, don’t go in expecting the film to be anything like it. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how you feel about it, but the film just isn’t that great. It in no way is a bad film, but there’s just so much lacking. Thankfully, watching Smith in this project was a joy, but the material he was working with wasn’t top notch. He does a great job conveying the mind of a man who hasn’t seen or heard a human voice in over three years. One laughs at first when he talks to mannequins as if they were talking back, but after the first couple times you can start to feel for him. However, they could have focused on it just a bit more. The rest of his interaction is with Sam, his only friend in the world, and the sole connection to the life with his family.
The monsters in the film, as stated, have vampire qualities. They are interesting but with their characterization comes a contradiction to the story. We’ll avoid spoilers, but the monsters disprove how Neville thinks about them. It isn’t a major issue but a notable one for those who pay close enough attention. The monsters are also a bit…odd, when it comes to physical abilities. Increased strength is one thing, but even for a vaccine that increases violence, there should still be restrictions to what they can do. Perhaps for a more action-based effect, they decided the monsters should have super speed and agility. Unfortunately, except for maybe one sequence, it isn’t that great.
“Legend” isn’t a true horror film but it does have its elements of the genre, displayed mostly through suspenseful moments. There are enough of these to keep you more than just barely interested but they “just so happen” to come at the most critical points. The most interesting scenes are the bigger ones with Sam and the flashbacks. The entire last third of the film, however, crumbles apart and doesn’t serve the first two-thirds any justice.
Considering what the film had going for it, it’s a shame the end results failed to fare better. Some parts are gripping and thrilling but there is plenty of downtime in the film that degrades it. And then there’s the last third of the film. Ideally, Warner Brothers won’t try to stretch this into a sequel. Technically they could, but they may be beating a dead horse with that idea. “I Am Legend” is worth checking out, but maybe money ought to be spent elsewhere for a better film.