Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga
Plot: Robert Neville (Smith) is the last survivor on Earth after a disease turns humanity into cannibal monsters and dedicates his life to finding a cure.
It is a hard thing to sustain a movie that spends most of its running time with a single cast member. I Am Legend uses many tricks up its sleeve to counter the problem. There’s a adorable German Shepherd that acts as Smith’s co-star, flashbacks to the outbreak… However, for the most part, Lawrence trusts the power of the material. Humanity (or at least New York as far as the viewer is concerned), is left in an apocalyptic wasteland by a virus. Smith is the only person immune to infection due to his blood type and works on creating a cure. However, at night, the infected swarm the city, carnivorous and violent.
Will Smith is incredible. This is up there with his best work. Seeing as the film pretty much fixes its sight on him alone, a good performance is key to the success of I Am Legend. If we don’t want to spend time with the central character, there is little to distract from his presence. Thankfully this is never an issue. Smith uses every inch of his acting experience to create a likeable caricature to centre this story. On one hand, it is typical Smith. Even with no one but a pet dog to bounce off, he is a charming, funny man to spend time with. In an attempt to create normality in his life, he interacts with store mannequins. It is a surprising source of both entertainment and emotion in this feature. Those that criticise some of the flaws of this movie seem to forget that it is much more than a zombie movie, but a character piece. What would happen to a man sentenced to extreme isolation? How do we act at the end of the world? Will Smith explores this question and creates someone so human, so ordinary, but having that humanity slowly drained out of him. He is a fascinating person, determined to hold onto his humanity. Few zombie movie heroes would keep at chipping away at creating a cure with little hint at any form of success, making Neville’s faith in optimism an inspiring central theme for the movie to take hold of. There are also some great scenes tucked away in this movie where Smith is really allowed to act. I Am Legend marks a time where Smith was allowed to step away from his action hero trademark and show the world he could give a great performance as well as other actors. Here, he is still given his heavyweight action moments, allowed he is seen far more vulnerable than we have seen him before, in this film. Yet it is the emotional moments that resonate over the action. The highlight of the movie is also its most heart-breaking scene, a scene where Smith is given full permission to rip your heart right out of your chest. It is a horrible, beautiful scene.
Outside of Smith’s performance is a mixed bag. The horror has its moments, mainly early on, before we see the ‘zombies’. One scene where Smith wanders through a dark, claustrophobic building with nothing by torchlight is chilling to the bone. You feel that it is watered down by being in such a mainstream, blockbuster movie, but it still causes tingles that horror fans cherish. Sadly, the monsters are less scary after the reveal. On paper, they are a brilliant villain. Primal, strong and murderous… poor CGI lets the team down, as you find yourself unable to muster fear for something that looks so fake. However, it is a small flaw in a movie that is, for the most part, paced with incredible precision. Slow-burning and uncompromising, its one narrative misstep is introducing another survivor, suggesting lack of faith in its central tone, but perhaps a necessary direction to take the film, granted its choice of ending. Again, it is best to judge I Am Legend on the smaller tricks. The cinematography of a dilapidated city, Smith’s performance, the small hints that maybe these zombies have a consciousness… Lawrence’s movie hasn’t aged well and has its fair share of critics, but it remains a solid blockbuster.
Final Verdict: Hoky CGI aside, I Am Legend boasts a gripping character piece, twinned with light horror and action. Smith is outstanding.