Review: I Am Legend

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsmith
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga
Released: 2007 / Genre: Science-Fiction/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray
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It’s surprising to see such a restrained, mannered big-budget Hollywood film delivered by music video director Francis Lawrence. Lawrence failed to ignite much devotion from casual comic book fans with his muddled adaptation Constantine, so it’s refreshing to see a young director, bred on the quick-fix conventions of recent blockbusters, produce such an interesting, and at times, moving film.

I Am Legend sees Will Smith’s military scientist Robert Neville stuck in a post-apocalyptic New York City alone when a cancer cure turns the populace into flesh-eating, genetically-mutated zombies. He is entirely alone apart from loyal pet dog Sam. Lawrence mixes some beautifully haunting images of a desolate city with flashbacks of an earlier period when the virus began to spread. In present day, Neville travels by daylight, broadcasting everyday on radio in the hope of finding more survivors. By night, when the mutated humans come out to feed, he works in his fortress-like laboratory desperately trying to find a cure.

i am legend, will smith, science fiction,

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The film may be littered with plot holes but this doesn’t detract from Neville’s story. This is indeed a character study of an obsessed but decaying man, dealing with a loss of lives he feels responsible for, and who, imprisoned in the endless expanse of an empty city, begins to mentally and physically breakdown. Although immune to the virus, he is not immune to its destructive affect on the modern, thriving society he can only remember in dreams. Now he only has his work and the dog for company. Finding a cure is as much a delusion as it is a compulsion. It’s the only thing he has left to live for.

Will Smith portrays Neville as a brilliant mind on the brink of insanity. His daily jaunts to the local video store see him talking to the mannequins as if they were real patrons, and he even believes one of them is flirting with him. Seeing this very logical scientist lose all sense of reality is as much tragic as it is heartfelt. When he does finally meet a survivor he can’t deal with them being in his life, in his space. He has become so overwhelmed with a single goal, and so accustomed to a life without interaction with any other human being, he’s almost unwilling to accept he’s not alone.

Lawrence doesn’t confuse the issue with too much exposition. Much of the background story is left unnourished – we don’t know why Neville and his dog are immune to the virus, or why the mutations are harmed by sunlight (apart from it being a generic part of a Vampire’s make-up). Lawrence, on the other hand, forces us to focus on Neville’s adaptation to this new world – the pseudo-caveman with all the mod-con gadgets in the world but no one to share them with. But, the film could have done without the poor execution of special-effects for the mutations themselves. There isn’t the sense of authenticity shown in the likes of 28 Days Later as the zombies in I Am Legend look like something cut and pasted from Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy.

While Lawrence resorts to convention at the end, the climax is not without its considerable surprises. As Bob Marley’s Redemption Song plays over the credits, I Am Legend leaves you with a sense of the human spirit, and the strength of that spirit when faced with even the most impossible situation. It’s hardly a perfect film but with Lawrence’s assured direction and Will Smith’s captivating one-man show, I Am Legend deserves an audience.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Castor Reply

    I really liked the movie when it came out although this has somewhat faded after more viewings. I have been a sucker for these kind of survival story although reading it in a book form is much more enthralling.

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    Rodney Reply

    I was among those who felt the film failed utterly with its use of CG monster men running around New York. Took me right out of the film, which until then had been actually pretty good. Will Smith delivers another great performance, and I count myself among those who prefer the original ending to the alternate one viewable on the DVD.

    I just can’t get past the bad “vampire” effects. Urgh.

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    Tom Clift Reply

    I really like the first half of I AM LEGEND, but I recall being quite let down by the second (I know this is what a lot of people say). But I do think it’s one of Will Smith’s stronger performances – the scene where he starts freaking out at the shop mannequin was quite convincing

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    Dan Reply

    I think a lot of what makes I Am Legend worth seeing is Smmith’s performance and a genuinely good/interesting premise. But as Rodney mentions – the poor ‘monster’ effects didn’t help.

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    Thomas Reply

    it seems most agree on the opening of the film being really strong, but then you can somehow see the whole thing see fade away into mainstream irrelevance. A pity, really, as the story would have allowed for some great dystopian cinema. My notes at the time.

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    Novroz Reply

    I kinda like this movie but I couldn’t love it as much as 28 days later (Trust me…My reason for loving 28Days Later it’s not because of Cillian Murphy). The story is touching and I literally cried when the dog had to be killed.
    BUT,one thing is so wrong in the movie…How can the electricity is still running when there was barely no one alive? That was so ridiculous!! 28 Days Later,The Road and Cell & The Stand & Under The Dome by Stephen make more sense than I am Legend

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    Fitz Reply

    If Warner Bros. had stuck with the director’s ending it would have been a much better film.

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    Anna Reply

    Agree with Castor here, I adored it the first time I saw it, but then caught it again and it wasn’t as great as I remembered.

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    Richard Reply

    I was really disappointed with this movie. After 1971s dreadful Omega Man I was hoping for a better adaptation of the original story. This is more faithful, but still didn’t nail it at all. I thought Will Smith was totally wrong for the role, too. And I agree with everyone that the CGI effects were crap. Why they didn’t just use actors is beyond me, since these were just supposed to be infected people. Boo!

    Good review. More generous than mine would have been. 😉

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