Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Premise: After a plague wipes out civilization and turns the human race into vampire-like zombies, a lone scientist (Will Smith) tries to develop a cure while surviving in the post-apocalyptic world.
What Works: I Am Legend is shot and edited very smartly. The scenes of familiar New York landmarks like Time Square have a haunting beauty to them and the filmmakers allow the art design of the wasteland speak for itself, creating the atmosphere and using it to sell the premise of the film. The story structure works well, spending most of its time in the post-apocalyptic world and telling the viewer what he or she needs to know through short and effective flashbacks. I Am Legend features strong acting by Will Smith, some of the best of his career. Although this is another science fiction film for Smith, his performance in this film is much more like his work in The Pursuit of Happyness and Enemy of the State than I, Robot or Men in Black. The seriousness with which Smith approaches the material is welcome and gives the film and the character a lot of credibility. The role has some of the same requirements of Smith that were placed on Tom Hanks in Cast Away, making him the only human actor for much of the film, but I Am Legend is far superior to Cast Away. The film addresses the basics of human survival, the character’s loneliness, and his change to the new realities of life in much smarter and economical ways. It also allows Smith’s character to get involved with a non-human. Instead of a volleyball, I Am Legend co-stars Smith with a German Shepherd and the connection between these two living beings becomes as wrenching as any man-canine relationship since Old Yeller. The story uses this relationship to maximum effect, putting more at stake in Smith’s scientific work and in his daily life.
What Doesn’t: The film is a little low on substance. It does not squander a brilliant idea the way I, Robot did, but it does not raise the subject up to its highest level either and the film’s conclusion disappoints. The character’s final epiphany is not as profound as a viewer would hope for, especially given the excellence that precedes it.
Bottom Line: Although similar (and not quite as good) as last year’s Children of Men, I Am Legend is a very good sci-fi and horror film. It demonstrates the kind of complexity and sophistication the genres can achieve while also satisfying audience expectations.
Episode: #170 (December 16, 2007)