Review: I Am Legend (2007)

Every few years an “end of the world as we know it” flick or two shows up. We have had more than our share of these films recently including The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Children of Men (2006) and more recently I Am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith. Of the three, you can definitely skip The Day After Tomorrow, you absolutely must see Children of Men and you should try to work in I Am Legend if you possibly can. While this film is not quite as good as Children of Men, it is fine end of the world entertainment.

There is a bit of formula in all these movies. This one follows the “we made a cure that went wrong” formula. A scientist discovers a way to cure all known cancers. Presumably, there was initially much rejoicing, but the rejoicing did not last long. The cure apparently mutated into an infectious disease that ends up killing ninety percent of the human race. Of those who remain, the vast majority mutate into albino man-eating vampires who recoil at sunlight but who spend their nights in search of prey. This explains why Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith), a research scientist, has steel shutters and doors for his tony Manhattan abode, which are closed promptly at sundown. He sleeps in the bathtub with a loaded gun. His house also has a lab in the basement where the research geneticist works feverishly to find a cure for this disease.

Fortunately, to keep himself fed and amused, there is plenty of plunder in Manhattan, but it is a lonely life. Aside from his basement research to engage his mind, he has only his dog Sam for company. Sam is his last link with his family. While his wife and young son sought refuge outside the city, he elected to stay in Manhattan so he could work on a cure for the disease. In flashbacks, we watch his family leave the city in dramatic fashion. Apparently, the virus first began to spread in New York City. The government quarantined the city, even to the extent of blowing up the bridges leading into the city. Dr. Neville is one of the less than one percent of the population who is immune to the virus. This is fortunate because he is also perhaps the only person left who can find a cure for the disease.

Unfortunately, lurking in the dark skyscrapers and warehouses of Manhattan there remain many of these crazed albino mutants. If he can capture one of them, he can use them to see if one of his potential cures can work. Needless to say, his success rate thus far has been zero.

No question about it though, these mutants are bat-shit crazy, which is why Dr. Neville makes sure he is home before sunset. Nonetheless, he maintains a lonely vigil of visiting a pier along the Hudson River at noon each day. There he waits seemingly in vain for others like him to show up. He broadcasts a radio transmission that tells the world that he is alive and can offer food and shelter to survivors. Is anyone out there to hear him?

I Am Legend is something of a departure for Will Smith, who more typically is cast in more “black” roles. Acting in films like I, Robot, Smith is showing that he is a versatile actor who should not be typecast. Thankfully, Smith is up to the challenge of his eclectic role. He comes across as completely plausible as the obsessed research scientist. Smith gets to stretch his acting abilities quite a bit in this movie and it is all for the better. Not to spoil too much of the plot but two people eventually do respond to his broadcast, a woman named Anna (Alice Braga) and her son Ethan (Charlie Tahan). Anna tells Dr. Neville that there is a colony of survivors in Vermont and that they should join the others there. Dr. Neville is convinced that the colony, if it exists, is a trap. Moreover, he cannot leave his research, which seems promisingly close to finding a cure for the mutation. He also thinks that Anna is something of a nutcase, because she said that God told her to seek him out.

For a violent movie, it is often incredibly scary and yet not terribly gross, which is my favorite kind of violent movie. You may find yourself spending more time gripping the armrest of your chair than eating your popcorn. This is another one of those movies where I wonder how in the hell they made the movie, because it portrays an empty Manhattan where the deer run amok in the streets and grass is coming up through the pavement. No doubt, this magic took a lot of CGI and matte paintings. Much of it had to have been filmed in New York City, a city that never grinds to a halt.

There are a few convenient plot holes and inconsistencies, but nothing to really bother you. Chances are you will be too engaged by the movie to care. At 101 minutes it feels longer than it is. If we have to have more end of the world movies, more like I Am Legend, please.

3.3 on my 4.0 scale. Rent it!

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