WARNING: This review contains a few spoilers.
I AM LEGEND is like a mashup of different movies. It’s part sci-fi action, part horror thriller, and part moral tale of survivalism. Take Will Smith who is a big movie star and throw him into a movie with a fascinating and gripping view of the end of the world. What do you get? Well you get a mostly entertaining movie with a well done first act and a problematic second act that feels rushed. The movie begins with an interview of Dr. Kripper (Emma Thompson) who is speaking about her scientific breakthrough in finding a cure for cancer. She has taken the Measles virus and altered it at a genetic level so that it attacks only cancerous cells. The treatment has proven 100% effective in over 10, 000 clinical trials. Of course, this cure is too good to be true and something goes horribly wrong.
Most of the movie takes place in 2012 in a desolate and ravaged New York City. The opening scenes in this movie contain special effects that are excellent, and it really creates a realistic yet almost magical view of a dead city. Because there is no upkeep to the city, weeds are rampantly growing, buildings are crumbling, and wild animals run free. Robert Neville is apparently the last man on earth after that miraculous cure for cancer mutated into a deadly virus. This virus had an infection rate of about 90% which basically turned the world’s population into “The Infected”. Of the remaining survivors, 1% had immunity and this number was drastically reduced when the infected population turned on the survivors. Neville has not seen anyone for three years and his only companion is his daughter’s pet dog named Sam. It is explained that some animals are immune to the airborne virus, but they are still vulnerable to contracting the virus through physical contact with infected.
Every night, Robert Neville goes into lockdown mode inside a barricaded house in Greenwich Village. The doors have giant locks, the windows have heavy metal shutters, and there is a gun in almost every room of the house. Then the inhuman screaming begins as infected survivors roam the streets looking for things to kill. The CGI for The Infected is absolutely horrendous by modern standards. They resemble predatory zombies yet have vampire-like traits and weaknesses: warped pale flesh, reactive to UV light, drawn to the scent of blood, fang-like teeth, extremely strong, and very quick movement. At first they are scary, especially the superb suspense buildup in the first encounter with The Infected inside an abandoned warehouse. After that scene, they are just not that scary. Facial expressions, movement, the eyes, the skin, everything about them looks heavily computer generated and this really takes away the plausability of such creatures. It seems these zombie vampires just serve the purpose of being lame cookie cutter menaces. But really, this movie is not supposed to be like 28 DAYS LATER so this aspect of the movie can be excused.
For the most part, this movie is about the struggle of Robert Neville. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to be deprived of human contact for a few months let alone several years. It’s even more difficult to imagine losing your entire family in a matter of seconds, then having the willpower to commit yourself to finding a cure for this virus which has destroyed humanity. Robert Neville faces this harsh reality and basically looks forward to a future of despair. However, everyday at midday he goes to the dock by the Hudson river, transmits a radio message, and hopes for survivors. He has a laboratory in the basement where he conducts experiments for a cure with disappointing results. He manages to go about hunting and gathering food when he’s tired of canned variety. There are mannequins that he set up around a video rental store, and he jokingly talks to them everytime he visits the store for another rental. He has gone a bit crazy, but he still remembers his mission and what he promised the day when Manhattan was quarantined. This is his Ground Zero. He can still fix this.
The buildup into the second half of the movie is good, but the actual second half feels rushed. After a sad event that breaks Neville’s spirit, he attempts a suicidal act at night in an SUV. Just as he is about to be killed, he is somehow saved by a woman named Anna and her son. There’s little to no explanation about how they managed to get into Manhattan, perhaps by boat since all the bridges have been decimated by military aircraft. The next day, Neville wakes up surprised to find himself alive in his home. The following events seem to just fly by in 20 minutes. Anna claims to know of a colony of survivors in Vermont. It seems absurd that they went through all this trouble just to find one man. There’s some religious material about God injected into the second half that’s unconvincing. When night falls, the sounds of infected can be heard approaching the house because Anna made the mistake of driving through the city before the sun came up. What a convenient way to present the final action scene. Somehow through all the chaos, it is found that one of the potions concocted by Neville earlier in the movie seems to actually work in reversing the effects of infection, but how? Given a few changes, this movie could have been truly excellent, but the second act just seemed to collapse into rapid fire scenes and missed opportunities that only raise questions.
I AM LEGEND does contain many memorable scenes, such as the moments between Neville and his dog, the evacuation scene of Manhattan when he’s saying goodbye to his family, and the first encounter with The Infected. This is one of Will Smith’s better movies and for the most part, his acting is above average. He really does deliver a pretty solid performance. The scenes of a deserted New York City are effective and provide an enlightening vision of what the world would look like without us. Overall, I AM LEGEND is a fun, inventive, and fascinating adventure.