At the beginning of I Am Legend, I was entertained. It told the story of Robert Neville (Will Smith), a man who has managed to survive a killer virus that wiped out more than 99% of the people on the planet. Those who survived were turned into “Darkseekers” a creature that cannot survive sunlight, lives in dark places and has little to no sentience. He lives in New York City with his dog Sam, trying to survive — all the while attempting to create a cure for the Darkseekers with his own DNA.
The first 30 minutes or so of the film is just that. Robert and Sam wander around New York, play golf on top of the wings of broken down airplanes, hunt lions, (because lions will inhabit New York City if all of the humans disappear), and just generally try to survive. Nothing much happens, but just watching a single person deal with the day-to-day struggle of surviving in a world completely devoid of human contact. We get gleams of potential mental illness because of this, and seeing Will Smith only show signs of this is interesting to watch. There’s also a cute dog around that’s a blast to watch.
After these opening 30 minutes, the film goes downhill fast. Eventually, Robert makes contact with a couple of other survivors, a woman named Anna (Alice Braga) and her son, Ethan (Charlie Tahan). They drag this film down. Not only because they end up taking away some screen time from Will Smith, which is rarely a good idea, but also because their purpose ends up being little more than as an annoyance for Smith’s character. He doesn’t need them and they don’t end up being much of a help. They also remove the aspects I liked about the first 30 minutes: The way the film approached Robert being the only man in the world, and how it dealt with his psyche in being put in this unfortunate position.
There’s one twist near the middle of the film that I didn’t like, Now, that’s not to say it’s a bad twist, but I don’t think that it was a good idea. Without wanting to spoil it, the energy drops off somewhat before Robert finds the other survivors, (or rather, they find him), but they just kill it. It’s somewhat of a sad moment, this twist, but the film probably would have benefited from having it far later, or not including it at all.
I’ve heard others complain about the ending of the film, and while I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan of how it ends, I don’t think it was awful. I’ll agree that the alternate ending on the DVD is better, but neither ending is terrible. Having not read the novel that this film is based on, I can’t say which one captures the spirit better, but from a purely theatrical standard, I can see why each one was filmed. Test audiences reportedly didn’t like the alternate ending, which is why the ending we got was used, but having the option to consider the alternate ending as the “correct” one is nice to have.
Will Smith is good in his role. The other actors, what few of them there are, are less impressive. Will Smith actually gets to play a character that has problems and depth, meaning he can show off his acting chops. The other characters, on the other hand, are relatively small and one-dimensional roles. Considering how small they end up being, and how easily they ruin the film, it’s a shame that they were included at all. The best part of the film was when he was alone in the world, having to overcome all of the challenges that would come from that scenario. All of that fun goes away when these new characters are introduced.
I also had to take issue with the CGI that was used to bring the Darkseekers to life. Some of the time, especially in far away, poorly lighted shots, it’s serviceable. There’s more of a problem when they come into full view. They don’t look like they should exist on Earth, and it’s very clear that they’re CGI. When you notice that CGI is being used, it’s almost always a bad thing. I noticed almost every time they came on-screen.
Despite this, I wished to see more of them, or at least, learn more about them. We learn that the virus that wiped out most of humanity was man-made — we attempted to cure cancer, and while we did, we also killed almost everyone on the planet — but that’s about it. We don’t learn why some people were turned, and we don’t learn why they become very similar to the infected found in 28 Days Later, at least in terms of abilities. Director Francis Lawrence reportedly cut about an hour out of the film before it was released, with most of that time being dedicated to these creatures. I wonder if it was a pacing problem or a budget one that caused their role to be limited, but regardless it would have been nice to get more of them, or at least their story.
I Am Legend isn’t terrible, but after the first 30 minutes, it’s forgettable and lacking energy. Will Smith is great, and even his dog is fun to watch, but once other characters are introduced, the film dies. It goes from an interesting introspective look at what a man would go through of he was the last person on earth and turns into, well, I’m still not sure. It becomes bland, that’s all I know.