3.8 out of 5 stars
Solitary, suspenseful, and scary, the post-apocalyptic thriller I am Legend features such a strong central performance from Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville. The first half of the film is magnificently disturbing with its masterful rendering of a city stripped of its soul after an uncontrollable virus condemns mankind to extinction. However, the terrible way of ending the film for the heck of validating its title and making a legend out of what happened really wrecks the solid aesthetic investment poured into it.
I am Legend makes a creative presentation for an already worn out theme about the painstaking errors on pathology that later could devour and infect humans. This sci-fi story set in Manhattan in 2012 centers on the struggle of the military doctor Robert Neville, the sole survivor of New York City, as he valiantly finds a cure for the virus that has destroyed the human race. The treatment for the doom-laden scenario presents one of the most haunting visuals of an empty New York. There are genuine thrills and some nerve-gnawing suspense courtesy of the realistically apocalyptic mise-en-scene, effective camera work, yielding sound elements, and the riveting acting from Smith. You feel the isolation and loneliness in the convincingly empty urban environment.
The stately, moody, and gripping build-up of being a witness and a struggling survivor to the world’s end becomes a stark saga with some existential ideas on the work. The promising first half drives you down to the road of disappointment as the story suffers on such a big missed opportunity by its end. The third act fatally trips… And after some cringing and heavy thinking in its prime form, the movie suddenly becomes a frenzy of monstrous logic that is aesthetically ticked off by conventional special effects for a zombie flick and a totally unconvincing type of redemption for its main character.
Francis Lawrence’s direction is generally patient, solid, and suspenseful especially in the film’s beginning where his scene-setting and early scare factor coincide with Smith’s moving delivery as the sole wanderer of the empty New York streets. He alternates cleverly among scenes of high tension, ferocious scares, and solitary moments of a lone fellow living in the planet. There is the eerie use of New York City locations drained of human activity with smattering of metaphors for a creepy, doomsday-laden story with more depth and meaning to the tale than just the usual plot-driven status of the typical disaster and end of the world movies.
The film early develops with maximum anxiety and gripping psychology. What sets it apart from most of the post-apocalyptic stories about the human killing virus zombifying people is the depth invested into Neville’s character. The audience connects with him from the surface to core-deep levels of human struggle and pathos. It makes the film work as a stark, frightening story of a post-apocalyptic world with a fairly gripping experience alongside Neville. Sadly, when I am Legend reaches its third act, it loses grip on its already well-built up story. It runs out of gas before it reaches its end.
Upon losing the thought-provoking and intense part of the story, there comes that mindless zombie scene really settling into a rip-off flick unthinking of the best way to end itself. The lousy means of letting Neville keep up with his heroic act to become a legend to the world is quite frustrating. Smart as he is as a character, he could have thrown “the thing” away and try to save himself from joining the mob to their end. However, the story dictates him to have such a pathetic way towards the story’s ending.
Smith commands the screen with his ability to make you feel he is a regular guy put into an extraordinary situation. He nails his portrayal as a man of anguish and advancing madness with the right dose of acting chops to keep the story within the matching plane of the director’s treatment. He provides a natural charisma that carries the film in its most essential form instead of merely becoming a movie superhero handling such turn of events as a matter of course. Full of emotion and anger and bordering a bit on the insane side, this one-man sci-fi show gives Smith the opportunity to explore every emotion needed and his unforced performance becomes physically and emotionally shattering. It makes a sort of a quiet meditation on the nature of humanity in such an apocalyptic condition. Sam, Neville’s beloved dog is also worth seeing for her charm and really great acting for a Hollywood canine. And with the rest of Smith’s colleagues in the acting department who may have little screen time and yet effectively delivering for the story, the emotional development for the film really becomes the film’s major strength. However, the performance power is still not enough to save the film from taking a wrong turn with its ending.
I am Legend may feel lifted elsewhere (mainly from the story thread already made by 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later), but it presents a reasonably absorbing take on its theme and subject matter. If it has only kept its personal, human, and contemplative atmosphere over the loud whiz-bang zombie action in its third-act collapse, the film’s greatness could have carried more weight and heart for its best purpose.
Shortlist of Las Vegas stores where you can buy Blu-rays and DVD:
Rancho Adult Entertainment Center
4820 N. Rancho Dr. Las Vegas, NV 89130
5060 Boulder Highway Las Vegas, NV 89122
4150 Blue Diamond Rd. Ste. 101 Las Vegas, NV 89139
Red Box Automated DVD Rental
Serving Las Vegas, NV 89101
8020 S. Rainbow Blvd. Ste. 130 Las Vegas, NV 89139